Anor-Log: Unseated

I have chosen to write this retrospectively, because I found it too distressing to write about as it happened. Attention agitated it, and it bulged all out of proportion. Anticipation picked up a pen, but dread began the sentence. Words slid in their own sweaty mess, unable to catch reality in all it’s horror. The fear was just too big to confine onto a piece of paper.

The day was coming. I felt the week sink through the thickness of time, and suddenly: there it was. Tomorrow. Behold, Tomorrow.
All I could do was watch Tomorrow heave in it’s final moments, then give birth to the monster. Today.
Today was the day, it had arrived.

The corpse of my fear lay dismembered thus: a full day back in hospital. Two clinics including weigh ins, a psychologist assessment and a key nurse appointment. Food negotiated out, quantities and calories loosely patched up by some stranger working in the cafe. My walks and activity doses crushed under hours and hours of sitting, chatting, thinking.
When it had been alive as Tomorrow, it had been so real. Ellie was already being pushed over the edge by the mere thought of it. The day itself was a fat alien. So unnatural and so unknown, of course it was threatening.
My anorexic routine was being hunted. In one day, I saw an end. An end of my will to go on, to progress into it. An end of reason. Ellie just wasn’t sure she’d make it. She’d never make it to the other side of all that sitting.

Here I sit, on the other side. The monster was slain and here lies Yesterday. What a mess. I have been covered in sticky guilt, but also indelible pride.

One day was serving up a large portion of anxiety. I was being force fed by my treatment: it was clear I couldn’t avoid it, I’d just have to try. Either Anonymous would stand by as I choked, or I’d swallow.
Today was the first of many that will treat my fear of sitting. One day, one pill to kill the pain of inactivity. Anxiety is an inevitable side effect.

Anticipation tested the day’s itinerary on Ellie’s imagination. I fed her small tastes of what the day would hold, to see how she’d react. Feverish panic followed hot and cold flushes. Confidence flared then was smothered by the gravity of what I was about to do: I was about to sacrifice a whole day’s activity.
Ellie’s blood thickened with my thighs.

Ellie chewed the day over for weeks in advance. She broke it into bite-sized pieces, into phases. Each phase was finely furnished with an assortment of chairs. The developing apolstering of my bottom would be crammed into these seats with contempt: I could at least prepare it.

Phase 1: The car journey to hospital. 45mins; subject to lumps of traffic congestion. High time pressure in the passenger seat; angry outbursts possible.
Phase 2: Clinic 1: Key Nurse and weigh in. 60 mins. Time usually smooth and syrupy, easy to consume and digest. Pleasant passing of time depending on what number the scales award me. Lower numbers can dampen sitting anxiety for the rest of the day.
Phase 3: Empty. Hours are steroids to bulk out the time between appointments and lunch. Sedative side effects for anxiety include the possibility of moving about corridors and town a little. Distraction recommended.
Phase 4: Lunch. Highly volatile and often resulting in a drama or crisis. Hallucinations are possible: featuring magnified calories of specific food substances, and anxious trips up and down the menu in search of something smaller, safer. Chair itself invites about 40mins: a neutral time for lunch.
Phase 5: Car journey to hospital. 5 mins: short and hostile. Streets inevitably constipated; anxiety pollution makes breathing here difficult.
Phase 6: The psychologist assessment. The crowning glory of the day: the big one. The one that would come one day, the wonder drug Ellie has been gagging for since Recovery reared it’s scarred head. Nowhere to hide in this chair. An hour, maybe two. Duration subject to reactions.
Phase 7: Car journey home. Please God don’t let it be any longer than 45 mins. Ah shit, another red light.
Phase 8: Anorexic bribery in form of a walk. No chairs here, it’s ok. You’re safe now: the day is nearly over. No chairs, only empty skies and muddy footpaths. Walking is a minor pain-killer to relieve any residual anxiety from sitting and/or eating.

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Lunch was hard today.

Preparing for this feast of fear built the ground up under Ellie’s feet. We hoped it would make a fair and even battleground.
Ellie reduced the day down to numbers. Anxiety can understand those, even futuristic ones. She weighed the minutes she could see would be spent seated, and predicted her activity levels.
45+60+30+45+60 = the edge of anorexic tolerance.
Ellie’s findings were unprecedented and unexpected. Looking at this beast of the day, one would expect the numbers to be bigger. We checked her calculations over and over, but still we had the same result.
On paper, it worked on this one day of my life, I’d be sitting down for an extra 25mins. That’s 25mins more than a normal day at the hospital. Only 5 or 10 mins were shaved off my walks.
Why must this cost you so many calories, Ellie?

Solve that equation, make it digestible.
Let x be Seated Time.
x = (Phases) x anorexic catastrophisation.
Therefore,
x = terrifying.

Now work out the calorific cost.
Let y be excess calories.
y= x – (kcal x catastrophisation)

One can find the value of all this at the end on the world.
I just couldn’t make sense of it: the day was just too scary for reality to be telling the truth.

This is how I worked my way through one of the most challenging days of my recovery. I forced myself from chair to chair, and took care not to begin the next moment when my mouth was full of the present one.

I still carry the guilt I picked up from spending so long in all those chairs. Restricting my food didn’t succeed in making me immune from it. All it did was make Ellie feel like a cheat when she was promised some pride. A survivor’s guilt.
It is an unfortunate side effect to the “sitting” treatment. Anorexia almost always flares up, and restricts my food. Even after exhausting myself with a panic attack before 9 in the morning, Anonymous could not justify fuelling my lazy seated arse. She’d rather see me drained, propped up by the pine armrests.

Let me go.
Please, let this whole horrid episode be over.

And Now we are here. Now is calm, Now let Today go.

I see now why Ellie fought so hard to attend clinics yesterday. She has been desperate for these psychology sessions. The assessment itself lathered over an hour like balm. Words reel off my tongue and show themselves to my doctors exactly as they are in my head. In the stillness of the ED Unit, Ellie can stand back awhile. She reads over the notes on her life, as if it happened to someone else. She sees it, just for a moment, how it is.
Fine.
Sitting here just has to be fine, for it is necessary.

We shall have to wait for my next weigh in to see if all that sitting made any difference to my weight. We shall have to see if my anorexic predictions are correct: if it all as real as it is in my head.
There were so many calories blowing the day out of proportion.There were so many obese thoughts squeezing me tight where I sat, unmoving, in my seat.
And that had to be fine.

One day, it will all be.
Let it all just be fine.
Please Anonymous, even if only for one day, please just let me be.

Eggscreme

Guys I can’t eat this Creme Egg.

I left a guy my number. I told my Self if he called or texted, I’d have to eat a Creme Egg. A bit of anorexic banter to bait myself with. Except now he has texted, hasn’t he? And I can’t do it. I can’t eat a Creme Egg, I just can’t do it.

I hang my head in shame reading my last blog post. I go over the lines I so carelessly signed away, sealing my pride and integrity in oblivion. Oh Ellie, you foolish child. Look what happens when you take too many calories and too much adrenaline: look at the disorder it brings. Anonymous’ lines have flared up, angry and imposing.
Let me take you back to my dream world. I was lost in it now two days ago: tripping tragically round in circles, apparently chasing a life I have no right to. Chasing not just a life, but a boy.
Having left him my number, I offered fate a deal: if he texts, Ellie, you have to eat a creme egg. You know, the adultered cocktail of chemicals and sugar, the branded bad-guy hoarding your whole sugar allowance in a single bite. The tiny foil wrapped time bomb. The one that haunts you from the fridge door, where it compiled it’s lair after the deputy head so thoughtlessly gave it to you on the last day of term. Yep, you know the one. 150 empty calories, with no nutrition but happiness.
“Hey, it’s (him its him its him!)” – received Fri 22:43.
My personal dilemma beckoned, and swallowed me up on Easter day.
I can’t eat this Creme Egg. Anonymous won’t even peel back the foil; she won’t even expose he fingertips to it’s thick shell. She doesn’t want to see what lies beneath, she can’t imagine the Anxiety that will be unleashed along with all those alien calories.
My body will surely react in only one way: one bite will be enough to pollute my mind and send it on a downwards spiral; up and up and up.
No, I can’t eat this Creme Egg. I’d sooner eat my words, for they are worth less. Yet they are just as scary: see how I have to back away slowly, and explain my way back into the safe predictability of anorexia.

Just because I can’t eat it today, doesn’t mean I ever will. Look around you Ellie. See how your world has changed in a single year. Your plate may put on a sparse spread of anxious mealtimes, food types and absolute reliance on quantities being measured to the g. Please don’t overlook the colour, please don’t neglect to notice how well it goes with the life you lead at the moment. You live a half life, and so your portion of it will provide enough to satisfy half your needs.
There are more colours than there were two years ago on this plate. Angry reds and flushing pinks pepper my days with emotion. Behold the yellow flesh of positivity, and the lush greens of fibrous fulfilment: a good job, a university place. And the thickening dressing that glues your synapses together, and so you can soak it all up and devour it each day, everyday. A high rises from the surface like steam. You weren’t eating like this before now.
Keep your plate piled with motivation and bravery, Ellie, and you’ll soon be able to indulge in the fullness of life.
You’ll soon be able to eat a creme egg. Just not today.

My phone has been humming with messages from this boy for just over 48 hours now. The blue light of a flashing screen has shown how big my lonely shadow is.
This is a whiff of a relationship, caught up in a changing calorific breeze. Giving myself more energy to listen to my chortling feelings has enabled me to engage with them. I have found a ghost: the presence of something so normal as desire. My desire is very, very weak. Anonymous hasn’t the time nor the mental space to waste on anything meaningful. It would be destructive, almost. It could induce change to my routine, and my feelings.
She never thought I’d actually taste my desire. If she had believed he really would have texted, she would never have indulged Ellie on a dream.
Yet here I am, holding my phone nervously, almost blinded by disbelief. This part of life tastes different to how I remember.
Approaching desire after a thorough detox of emotions has taken me very close to it’s surface. Through this thin angle, warped and widened by memory and experience, I can see past the facade of flirtation. I am already finding the blemishes on human interaction. Why is this all so complicated?

Easter is a difficult time of year for me. It’s another time marker, another monument to past years when Ellie was able to enjoy herself, and enjoy time with her family. She cold ground herself in her home and wade through countless blessings. She could let her feelings be comforted, not confronted.

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Family lunches are going to take some practice.

Pressure pressed it’s face menacingly against my family’s plan for the day. Church, lunch, love. Anonymous cannot bear such a strong force as that of family tradition, and so she and I must withdraw, even if just to avoid a scene. Even sitting beside a relative at the table, surrounded by the feasting and the festivity, Ellie is withdrawn. She holds the event at arms length, and watches herself perform “fine” for as short a time she can, before fleeing.
I cannot enjoy Easter celebrations on the day, because the very nature of it aggravates my illness. Anonymous cannot sit in church, nor for too long at the table. Anxiety devours me faster than my grandfather eats. Anonymous refuses to accept the speed my family eat will dictate how long she must sit at that table.
Easter’s purity has been hijacked and submerged in indulgence. The weeks raced up to the day, a gathering storm of chocolate, diets in the name of lent, and the reduction of our relationships taken from the size of our piles of easter eggs, of things. It is easy to mistake our celebrations to be of greed, not of gratefulness.

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Celebrating new life – and tastes!

Yet, this year I did enjoy some Easter treats. Whilst I can’t have that Creme Egg, I want to try a little Montezuma chocolate bunny Mum bought me. The terms for an Easter treat were negotiated well in advance: perhaps I’ll manage a little bite out of a raw dark chocolate bunny. Other sugary highs for Ellie included moving her breakfast 15mins later, and forgoing a day at my Anonymous command for one loosely based on my family’s time plan. 45 mins at the lunch table was like nectar. So smooth and easy, until anorexia checked the time. Then I had to leave – I had to get home for a walk.

With anorexia, life is hungry. It is not plump with pride and ripe with success, nor is it fresh with renewed vigour. It functions, mostly on promise.
Recovery is offering Ellie a taste for life, and shows her what it would mean to feel full. For it is the fullness of life which we celebrate at Easter time. What with all this possibility, all these meals and meanings and metaphors on the horizon, it is only right that I celebrate Easter and the renewal of my life. I try to indulge in the novelty of recovery everyday. Each day is a blessing that needs to be counted, and sucked dry of opportunity. It will guide me to a new life, one day. Full of family and fun, and Creme Eggs. Of course.

Oh, the Creme Egg.
Is he worth a Creme Egg? Should I cheat on Anonymous, gamble with her belief so quickly and willingly on chance?

Now that this boy has been plucked from my dream world and splayed on my phone screen, it feels real. Close, and unfamiliar. I can feel the breath of someone watching me settle on my skin like sweat.
Anonymous isn’t coping with the unfamiliarity of normal. She can’t even string the words together to talk about herself: for he insists on asking. How on earth do I talk about myself as if I know anything about it?

It is a shock, dragging a dream down into the real world.
One of the few to turn out better than I could have dreamt, really, is Recovery.
And chocolate. The bunny was delicious. I’m sure the Creme Egg will do too, one day.

(Advice on acting normal appreciated x)

Bring up a Body

Here, put on my shoes.
Lets take a walk.

We’re going to retrace my steps through the last few weeks. The ground is still very uneven, so tread carefully. There are a lot of cracks we could fall through, straight into the fiery pits of anxiety rumbling away underfoot. Not to worry. My shoes are used to these harsh conditions, they can swing my mood to and from the threat of progress.
After all, they carried me this far. They haven’t fallen to pieces yet, as so many have before.

Come, we’re going to get off the beaten track a little. We’re going to explore the dark allies of myself I’d really rather pretend didn’t exist.
Don’t trip up over the bodies.

The quiet was delicate that Friday night. I was home alone, curled up by the fire with a crossword and a cat. The Beast from the East pawed pitifully at the window panes.
Then it came back. Out of the shadows of my mind, still woozy from Anonymous’ enforced famine, it came back. I was dragged back to that dark place, back into the my familiar prison.
Silence, my old friend.

Silence is strong but brittle, as it turns out. The secret I have held away from me for so long broke out in a desperate rash as recovery threatened to close in on me from all sides. I couldn’t carry it with me any longer: it was too big, too heavy. I just wouldn’t make it out the other side.

I have held Silence carefully knowing it was strong, but brittle. It broke between my teeth. First to my Godmother, for she was the first to discover my body, writhing in horror and shock. Then my Mum. I broke it up, and shared it with my Mum. The next day in hospital, I offered it up to my nurse.
I beg anyone to take Ellie off my hands. Here – help me, help me.
My tongue riled behind gritted teeth. My Silence broke, my secret crushed against the roof of my mouth. Unable to take the weight of Ellie’s secrets anymore, I tore them from my person and spat them out in a sentence.
This rotting body I have dumped at your feet is long dead. Even so, I just can’t let it go.

I cannot show you my secret. Only parts of it’s dismembered body. You’ll get the picture; just not the angry buzz, the bitter taste, the stench of sweat, the crushing pressure. You’ll get a still, frustration bitten idea. It’ll itch, it will be painful. You’re only in my shoes. Imagine how excruciating it is being trapped beneath my skin.
Emboldened by my 13 years, I went on a childish wander. With bare, unprotected hands, I leafed through the world around me. Ellie was looking for Anything really, but discovered Something. That Something changed Everything.
I stumbled upon a Secret. A most terrifying creature, one that grew bigger and blacker before my eyes. It latched onto me and began to mutate. My shadow dilated and leered. My family, my friends, my Self. We were all being watched, we were all being stalked by Paranoia. This Secret brutally trained my senses to be alert. I kept my enemy close to my chest, squeezed it tight and vowed to never let it go, never let it be out of sight of my mind’s eye. Plotting, trying to work out how to kill it.
I just didn’t know what to do with it, nor how to handle it. Should I hand it over, turn myself in? Would it behave differently if it were out of my hands? Probably not. No, better to hide from it.

Hiding from Ellie didn’t make her go away. It didn’t give me any peace.
Only now I’m refeeding her, now the calories are rousing me from my starved sedation, am I beginning to think again, remember again, feel again. It’s all exactly the same as I left it, only heavier, and neglected.
I drugged her. I plied her with alcohol. I watched men circle her like sharks and did nothing to stop them dragging her down, pushing her head down, striking her down.
I was an extra hand held over her mouth after Crackhead no.4 broke into her room, again. 2 inch idiot, Tweedles Dum and Dumber, the-ones-who-were-so-uninteresting-I-never-came-up-with-a-scathing-name-for-them. I can still see the specs of cocaine on his nostils, glittering like stars. The nights are black, but I can still see his stars. The blood never washed off my sheets, the smell of skin and sweat lingers.
And I did nothing, because this is the least Ellie deserved. I could push her further and further, but still she’d stay with me. Still with me, trapped together in the same body. Trailing after me like a ghost.
I met Anonymous when I was 13. Together, we plotted to rid me of Ellie. Only after all else failed, did we begin feeding Ellie to oblivion. Kcal by g, kg by bpm.
Stay away, get away from me.

The fear is still alive, kicking and screaming. My secret died on my lips but it’s legacy lives on. The seeds of self hate grew roots as I grew older.
I’m actually frightened to approach the subject again, let alone start picking up the pieces. There are too many bits to reorder, too many sharp edges.

I don’t know myself anymore.
I don’t know who Ellie is, what she did, what she might do. All I hear are the rumours orbiting the perpetrator of all my pain: Ellie.
I tore Ellie’s shoes from my feet and ran.

Even after lancing my secret, it still itches. It is a different type of itch, an uncertain one. As if unsure why it should be there at all, but persists as a precaution. From the moment I told someone my secret, I felt relief splash on my face like cold water. The pain was numbed for a short time, and now it is back with a vengeance.

Come, let’s leave this now. It has been an uncomfortable journey, so let us turn back to recovery.
As we’ve walked together through this thick undergrowth of my Self, I can feel your attention starting to lag. The relentlessness has made you a straggler, and you’ve struggled to keep up as we wade deeper into the murk.
Now, you are vulnerable. This is where Boredom prowls, and I’m sorry I haven’t been looking out for you.
Careful where you tread, you would not want to fall prey to Boredom.

I have been caught by boredom. As I flee from anorexia and pursue recovery, I entered this long grey grass of endless anxiety and monotony. My routine closed in and winter froze out any variation. I strayed behind time, and now I am trapped by Boredom.
Boredom bites into my limited life, salivates when it catches a whiff of loneliness. This Beast has settled on my job like snow: the hours thaw through the day, dripping and draining until I can crawl home and take refuge in sleepy solitude. Days are swept to one side without having spoken to a single human being outside my house. My phone sits silent, a ghost.
Boredom is excruciating. It is so itchy, but there is nothing Anonymous can do about it. The only way out, is up: I can escape boredom by squeezing weight gain past Anorexia, and drag my feet towards a recovering horizon.

Stop fidgeting. The more you struggle, the harder you fight, the tighter anorexia will squeeze.
And now, it is time we looked down again. You can take those shoes off now, they’re beginning to wear thin anyway. Soon, I’ll stand on those scales, and they’ll fall to pieces again.
They make you uncomfortable. I can read you fidgeting, glancing over your shoulder to check how far boredom is away.
Sharp scratch, deep breath. It’s over. This misery is mine alone to manage.

I have managed to put on and maintain 1kg in a little over a month. Not quite the prescribed amount, but enough to satisfied my doctors that Ellie can do it.
Of course she can do it: boredom and frustration is excruciating. She is pushing my towards the kitchen cupboard, begging me to have my snack. Please, make it all stop.

In my kitchen is a small, unremarkable cupboard. Behind it’s door, lies a monster’s lair. The “Snack in the Cupboard” – a hoard of nut butter, energy balls, dates and mylkshakes I have been stashing out of harms way. Piles and piles of calories.
The increase I have hid from for months, but that I finally put in last week.
I gained some weight.
I held on to it.
The itching never subsided.
We stand here together now, 500 kcal braver. But also, 500 kcal more anxious. For we have inclined our head towards change, at the expense of our mind.

My life is trying to outgrow Anonymous, I can feel it. But it keeps being stunted in awkward places: great tumours throbbing with anxiety protruding in on Mother’s Day, red traffic lights and unexpected phone calls. Any form of social life has been deformed. Friends are ushered away before they can expect me to sit. My travel radius has shrunk and barely skirts London – the journey is just too long to go anywhere else. Anonymous counts the extra calories she could be burning by choosing not to sit and study, but to stand and sneer. Great periods of time drawing blank, and being called a masterpiece.

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Extract from food diary: “Banana approx. 25 lines long.”

My camera roll is stuffed up with pictures of my food. This symptom has got worse as the “increase” treatment was proposed: I feel the need to gather as much evidence as possible to prove why my weight behaves the way it does, week after week. Everything has been put on edge, and sharpened; ready for the charge to recover my body from anorexia.
Under all this thick and thin skin, Ellie still scratches her head, trying to find where it itches.

I feel life bulge from my person sometimes. Sometimes, I can taste the progress as it is made.
Look down at my feet: see the words written here. Read between the lines and find the small changes taking place in other chapters of our life, Ellie.
The violent buzz in my yoga classes is slowly subsiding. I find myself counting breaths in a pose, rather than seconds of being completely inactive. Exercise is being diluted by incense, and for a whole hour Ellie can focus on being, rather than feeling.

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“Thou shalt have a body positive day.”

The relationship I have with my mirror has intensified. It speaks more animatedly, and seems more open minded to what I present before it. It can see through my thigh gap and still isn’t satisfied. Sometimes, it even speaks to me kindly.

How are the shoes? All this talk of food makes them feel tighter, right? More itchy.
You can take them off now.

I’m sorry our journey down memory lane has been trying. It isn’t always that bad down there. Recovery pushes me down there quite often, now I have the strength to explore it.
Yes, there are the ghosts rising from writhing corpses. But there are some bodies there that died properly. Dead and buried by acceptance. There are some bodies of innocent bystanders: times of my life that were victimised by anxiety and tortured out of proportion.
Some of these aren’t dead; they’re asleep. Lost in a dream.

If only I could take you into the dream world.
Standing in my shoes and watching Hopes and Dreams will never be enough. You’ll never feel how excruciating it is to hope and dream, how itchy it makes one feel trapped beneath the skin of an illness.
I have tried to bring my dreams into the real world, by writing them down. I wrote pages and pages on one dream that takes place On A Little Street in Singapore: back to where I was safe, back to where I was saved. Back to listen to the Oriel warble.
Another dream of pulling my skin on in the morning and feeling proud of Ellie.
A somewhat more trivial dream of asking my barista out, now burst by the sharp scratch of reality: how would Anonymous be on a date?

For now, please stay with me as I reach out to touch a dream close by, and make it come true. The dream of feeling 500 kcal more amazing everyday. The dream of making progress and watching it wash over my life, like cold water. I could float on it, perhaps.

I dream finding bits of myself I never knew existed, and piecing myself back together.
That will start, with bringing up a body.

Anor-Log: the Flu

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.
Ah, 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.

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Feeeeeeeed 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.

Sour Cherries

It always starts this way. Here, the world curls it’s toes over the edge of reason. The stable ground underfoot cracks, and breaks away. This is how it will surely end: with the beginning of a panic attack.

There is an intrusion. A thought starting to circle sluggishly at first, swooping around my mind with a great whoosh. Faster, faster. I can never keep up.
Then the ground breaks. Anxiety begins to build. Towers of hours top up the day. Waffled thoughts pile on thick slabs of anxiety, paving the way between mealtimes. Reading Ellie-numbers or working through the tough layers of anorexia at the clinic. A sugared rush to keep to my schedule – you’re late – a sudden drop in pressure to bake the day dry. Flashbacks glue together like treacle. The aroma of burning bridges when Anonymous makes me cancel, again. Then it will finally arrive. A single cherry crowns the day. It always starts like that: when the cherry plummets, tearing through folds of creamed reason. Ellie topples over. Only a molten, sticky mess it left to wade through. Wade through it I must, because Ellie is in there. Somewhere.

I can carry the cherry around awhile, sometimes. Together, Anonymous and Ellie totter along, bickering over what to do. Ellie would choose to ignore it, cast it aside. Anonymous though, is hungry. She’d rather devour every last feeling-filled morsel, spraying crumbs all over an unfortunate family member who happened upon us.
I become exhausted from carrying it around all day. Limping through each hour, pushing that small splinter of panic deeper into my side. How I wish I had pulled it out earlier, examined it, and flushed it away. How I wish the affected area could be cleaned of any worry. Too late now: it has turned the day rotten. Inevitably, it will hit a nerve. My legs buckle under the weight of the world, and so I simply let it crumble around me. Poison brings out the world in black and white: it’s all, or nothing.

Breakfast is particularly susceptible. I am careless in guarding myself against anxiety in the mornings. Perhaps it is in the twilit minutes waiting to be fed; perhaps feeling fresh and over-excited. Perhaps it is wishing the day had never arrived.
In any case, it is not a comfortable way to carry my self through the day.

Behold, a trigger. See, just over there: a waft of cooking from the kitchen. This piece of edible substance giving off an odour.
Go.
A gas is inhaled. Garlic; cumin; the buttery scent of pasta. Something fishy in the air. The air licks my face. Can you feel it sinking? Into my hair, into the follicles. Burrowing into my cells and diffusing into my bloodstream. My skin saps food from the air, and the kcal begin to topple into kg.
Panic clots up the narrow openings of my anorexic mind. I am pushed into a place where reason fears to tread, and I cannot see. I can’t see how I can begin to save Ellie from the oncoming tide of pain. This Anonymous feeling pulls me under. There the world must end: here, when I am made the prey of an anxiety attack.

It doesn’t always work this way. If only there were a simple step-by-step criteria for the perfect anxiety attack. If only I could predict what and where and who – if only there was some warning: a why.
Anxiety’s system is broken. Sometimes, it takes all day to warm up. Only peaking when everything gets too much. Others, it lashes out and grips me from behind. A solo flight riding on shock: gotcha.
The system of panic attacks is broken, because it just doesn’t work. The moment is jarred by self harm or screaming: but it only backs away a little. Waiting around the corner the to get me the day after, or the day after that. I am being preyed on by my own self-defence.

Every week I tear cherries from my chest. My doctor will not help me clean up the gory splatters left behind. They are a mark in history, she said. They can tell us what happened, they can help us learn.
Sometimes to understand what happened, one must start at the end and work backwards. The end is all I have: the here and now.
Try and stop the here and now sink into my imagination. Swallowed up and churned about with what is real, and what is not.
I can get there before Anorexia. I’ve managed before, and I’ll try again next time. Even if I fail, again.

I waited for my family to return from their trip to the curryhouse. A ceasefire had been negotiated whereby my family would strip down when they arrived home, thereby confining the carriers of smell into the utility room. Anonymous licked her lips nervously, already catching the scent of vindaloo in the air. She was building up for a big one.
It doesn’t always have to end this way, Ellie.
I barricaded myself upstairs, and listened as jollity and jackets were stripped off and stuffed into tomorrow’s pile of dirty washing. The air neutralised, and I tried to communicate with what was real. I listened to my family help me. I smelt the pong of madras pollute the house until my brother opened all the windows. Gradually, reality ate away my anxiety, and I emerge. Limping away from that cherry.

Picking Ellie up after a crisis can take time. I explore her limits: temples, palms, squelching eye sockets. Fingers stretch to her end and toes wriggle. Earthed on the floor. Here is where you end: this is real. Here is the beginning. Start again.

I swallow the future in anticipation. Anonymous tinkers at the present with her wise imagination, applying this and accepting that. Going over and over every possibility until she is certain of every fiction, checking and double checking, round and round and
round, what if no stop yes but no please no
Stop.
That thought never leaves. It festers, gradually provoking my worst fear into coming true.
It’s like asking someone to stop, please leave – but they just carry on.

And on I am carried. Backwards: in a flash, the present presses play on the past. Hard.
My flashbacks don’t just leap upon me. Some of them creep. Tripping along, wading through another dull day. Then I realise I’m being watched again.
Re-minding is violent. Attention is torn from sense, the here from the now. It is hurled back to another place, another time. Old stomping ground now overgrown with barbed judgements, and great memory blocks. I remember, I remember. I remember when it was dismembered.
The smell arrives last. Weed. Waste. Skin and sweat; soured sex. It lingers, perving. Long enough to stuff another cherry in my mouth, but not long enough to give me any answers.
Stuck under my skin, reliving it again and again. And still, I don’t understand what I’m seeing. I still don’t understand what happened to me, what I let happen.
You let this happen.

Something made me ready to topple into Anorexia at university. I was fertile for it, having been exposed to a few bad apples here and there, treacherous conditions and being left out in the cold. University was a very rotten cherry, topping a building mental health crisis. The more I explore it, the more I realise that university aggravated my illness, but didn’t necessary cause it. I have always had anorexia, but she didn’t always have me.

My psychologist assessments will start soon. The first approaches like a nurse with a needle. This might hurt. Turn back, look back.
Sharp scratch.

Cross your mind, pass Anorexia. Look back, what Anonymous told me was derelict is writhing. Breathing, and furious. Memories grown rancid with neglect, regret. I don’t recognise a single event: this is just a jumble of words, smells, sounds. And feelings, so many feeling. Disorderly and drunk from the sedation of starvation. These memories are still woozy, but they are waking up. I can feel it, they are coming back to get me.
It’s real. It just seems so real.

My feeling have gotten fatter in recovery. The extra kg I have gained recently have ripped the banks of memory open wider. Banks of reason falling into the mad rush of anger, sorrow, joy, confusion. I feel dilated. I feel fat. Too big for the here and now.
So I stopped.
But Ellie, you’re not fat yet. I’m halfway to weight restored, and now I am terrified to taking the next step. The ground might break.
And how will that end?

Yet Ellie has forced me into the new year, eyes on the horizon. There is much to keep her busy: going back to school, going back to yoga, going back out of winter. Going back.
She is trying to edge forwards a little. A job interview and spanish evening classes embellish the return of recovery. Return it must.
I can’t stay this weight forever, that’s just too much to bear. I cannot make a story out of numbers.
There is more for me out there. If only there was somewhere easier to start, than this end.

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Being published in the Sunday Times was rather a positive start to the year!

A Stranger

I can’t go downstairs.
Red wine smokes by a roaring fire, the clamour of crackling wood licks the dim hue of candlelight. A bottle of anxiety ripens, secreting that fruity stench. Swirled three times before poured neatly down their throats between mouthfuls of crisps. Cheese and Crianza: the fragrance of cosiness.
I can’t.
The air would be too heady, woozy. Close. I can smell the fug from up here, perched at this desk with the window open wide. Wrapped in the embrace of the frost.
Down there, the stench of wine, whimsey and worries would turn on me. Burrowing between my frown lines, my pores soaking up the alcohol lingering in the air. Fermented calories a mere whisper, a sticky breath down my neck. Poisonous thoughts can catch, then rage.
It is marginally safer up here, in the back room. A spare space for spare parts going spare in despair and disrepair. An unused duvet, empty decoration boxes, a pile of hollowed out ostrich eggs. A pile of used clothes on their way out of here, crammed into a donation bag. Then theres me. Nestled up to my desk by the window, breathing in safe air. This desk was installed a few weeks ago when the intrusions became too much. The grating cry of the telephone, scratching cats and door rattling on their hinges. Unhinging. Winged calories taking flight up the stairs and seeping under the bedroom doors.
Each of these are examples of single, over-ripe cherries that can crown my day, and finish the feast for Anxiety to devour. So I must retreat up here, and back away from the triggers.
For awhile, I can forget. The pages of this notebook fold under my hands and this pen nestles in my hand. I take advice from Keats and Byron that I don’t understand, only revere. Snip, snip, snip. Cutting my life down to size and displaying the good bits in a scrap book: newspaper clippings, receipts, an empty cereal wrapper. Only the pretty bits, the shiny ones. Because really, that’s all anybody would be interested in.
There is nothing extraordinary about these parts: nothing emotive or glamorous about wallowing in my own poverty. And nobody to tell me otherwise. When I am alone, I can be Anonymous, or Ellie, or unreal. Allowed to sink back, and be nothing. Be neutral.
This is such an aggressive illness. Sometimes, it is just better that I stay away. When a cancer of emotions blots up the fluidity of my family; when Anxiety eats the atmosphere or I catch myself stalking my parents as they move through the kitchen, looking for irritation. When all I want to do is unload my burden onto someone else as they stagger under their own. I find a pocket of clean air, somewhere away from the noise, and contain the violence.
Oh, to be alone. To be undisturbed and peaceful, to be apart from the reality of it all. To cower in the quiet. Of course, I’m never alone. There is always something, someone. There will always be some corner that stops me as I retreat away from myself.

When I tumble off the edge of reason, I break out in feverish anger. An unreasonable rash, blinding and raging.
It makes me a stranger in my own home, and to myself. I mustn’t be around other people, I mustn’t. Don’t look at me, not like this.
I can’t see myself for rage: I can’t distinguish Ellie apart from the fear, apart from the anorexia apart from the – real.
Anger pushes me out.

Stop. Ellie, stop.
Come here, come back down here.

Anorexia grew around loneliness like mould. Layer upon layer, keeping out the cold. Recovery gets it’s fingernails lodged under this tough hide, and then I feel it. The sharp bite of memory, the familiar chill running up my spine. A bitter reality condensing, and rolling down my face like tears.

Anonymous carries loneliness, and so other people are at risk of exposure.
Mum and Dad splutter when my anorexic words turn the air rancid. They watch as insults, with nowhere to go, turn back on my tongue and begin to self destruct. Yet they stand by, and wait for the worst to be over. Always there, just there. Nearly there Ellie.
I froze my friends out, or they did me. Some backed off at the stench of illness. Some were stared down by long silences over text, not recognising me drowning in a crowd of my own thoughts. Those that survived this winter then endured rashes of words snaking down their screens, never face to face. Desperate pleas for news, stories, anything to whisk me out of myself, away from me. From my illness.
Then, there are the ones who survived, and found me. They agree to meet me at the edge of reason, where I’ll often leave them hanging, unable to wade through a flash flood of panic. Yet still they grit their teeth, and wait for the symptoms to subside. This is the only treatment for loneliness I trust to work: the test and trial of time.
Even after all this time: thank you. Thank you for remembering me, thank you for inviting me. I am flattered that you remember Ellie enjoys the odd pub trip, a carol service, a night on your bedroom floor. One day, I’ll come. I’ll answer to my name, not to Anonymous’.
Days go by where I speak to nobody but my long suffering parents. Sometimes, Anonymous needs her hit of loneliness to turn the screw. She thinks it helps, because it hurts. As if she has any control over her own impoverishment.
Yet still, she feeds on it. Another way of starving myself.

The chill of loneliness, and the itch of boredom. Here are the symptoms wrecking havoc on my recovery.

Blotches of boredom rupture randomly.
I haven’t learned to sit with time: not at my desk, behind my harp, around a friends’ table or in a car going somewhere new. Instead I am made to stand up to creeping calories, and confront minutes as they slide by, squeezing exercise out of them like sweat. Time drips by, washed away by frustrated tears. The empty promise of Tomorrow lurks in a couple of hours, bumping through the night until it pounces on a breaking dawn. I endure boredom, and wait for the day to end.
Easing this deadly symptom takes practice, and imagination. Last week, a miracle occured.

I was sent where boredom fears to tread: unchartered territory for my Anorexia. I was asked to cover the reception class full time during the week. That is nine hours a day wading through layers of children. The assault course was the classroom floor: littered with paper, mud and fingers. Lego booby-traps laid like confetti. Eyes that have only witnessed four years of this world would produce tears that could be stemmed with the wave of a wand, or a teddy, or a time out. Here – take this. Make that.
There wasn’t enough of me to go round. I left some thoughts on the whiteboard and buried others in the sandpit; had a panicked mind instructing my body to just. Stay. Calm, and do as I say.
Children can smell fear, and I stank.
Confronted by a week restrained in a chair: at a desk; an easel; cross-legged on the carpet and bolt upright in assembly. I could watch Sitting in it’s natural habitat, still and camouflaged against the hope in that classroom. The conclusions I leapt to when I accepted the job: the endless sitting, the clamour, the stress – the triggers tipping off tongues like spit. I held these at arms length as I crossed the threshold on Monday morning. If I could jump at an opportunity as fast as I jumped to conclusions, things could be different.
I called on all I had learnt in recovery: Nut theory; the smoothie crisis; the mystery of trust. Try it Ellie, try it for one week. See what happens. A controlled experiment in an uncontrolled environment – moving meals an hour each way; activity anxiety; lunch in the staffroom – see what happens. If you can do this, you could be opening the door to new things. Imagine what you could do, Ellie, if you knew how to sit?
Imagine how much you’d be able to write.

Anonymous isn’t good with children. She wrinkled her nose and held back, but I felt her watching. Her gaze often burned a hole in my seat, and I was forced to stand up, and make excuses by clearing up during circle time. Her chest tightened as the clock hand turned, screwing my lunchtime tighter. She clutched loneliness and waved it in my face in the few moments I had spare to stand back, and admire my work.

I am so proud of what I achieved this week: I sacrificed activity, and killed off boredom. I didn’t enjoy it: there was no room for enjoyment, no time. But it was brilliant.
How wonderful to be too busy to hear loneliness snoring, how wonderful to feel something as fulfilling as joy.
I did it – because I said so.
For a week, I could be part of a pocket of progress in a world of constant, cyclic doubt.
If only it didn’t have to come to an end. Going back to boredom, it looks different somehow. More vulnerable.

Boredom and loneliness are both causes and symptoms of my illness. When I feel brave, I try different treatments, and see how my life responds to them. Learning to manage loneliness, and look into it’s scarred face without flinching, or running away.
Anorexia was just a way out, just another dead end.
This blog eases the itching emptiness. Someone to talk to who’s judgements I’ll never read through my screen. Someone to talk to when I am faced with an empty chair across the table.
My phone feeds off me, and I off it. An unhealthy attachment, stuck staring at a screen looking for something that will never be there. I feel each dancing image drain time and energy.

My life has begun to creep. My weight is taking tentative steps up an axis, and strength rushes straight to my head. My memory is dilating and senses sharpening, and it is all rather hard to adjust to. I’m not used to managing all these processes, all this pain and all this light. Reality looks different everyday. Sometimes, it hurts to look at, so I choose not to. I turn my thoughts onto something closer, familiar. Like myself. Then I tear it to pieces, just to prove I can.

This time of year aggravates symptoms of loneliness.
Festivities have frosted over, small sharp triggers prickling as advent is worn away. The overripe fruit of Christmas, hanging just out of my reach. Last year, I wasn’t strong enough to tug enjoyment from branches laden with emotions. This year, I am at least reaching for it, determined to find some sweetness.
My family beckons to Christmas, and I can already feel myself being left behind. Left out in the cold, unable to get too close to the celebrations lest they upset Anonymous. Even now as I write my Christmas cards, I can here her growling. How many calories are on the envelope glue?
Ellie always loved Christmas. Perhaps that’s why I grieve so much when I realise it may never be the same again. I will sew my broken heart together with the doubt that things will always be this way. Something will change, it has to.

There is a stranger in here. Raging under the confines of my skin, tearing my mind away from my body.
Hiding from myself for so long, I’ve become a stranger. Always there, but never here.
When I touch Anorexia to rouse it, all I feel is loneliness.

Precision Theory

No Mum. I can’t try just one Kale chip.
Which one? Of what veg:oil ratio?
There is, say, about 57kcal per 23g packet. Of that packet, what percent would I then be eating by having a single kale chip?
Let the value of the chip be unknown. Now, Ellie, find the meaning of eating just one.
Imagine how that will stick out in my food diary. Lunch: OUT @ Pret a Manger: Festive Salad box; 1 x Kale Chip. (And then what – describe it? Large leaf approx. length of index finger. Salt crusted and curling at edges, a deeper shade of green – suggesting longer cooking time?)
Work that one out on the scales. It will surely show up in my weigh-in. Uh huh, even that one.
Yes I do eat kale. And yes, it is considerate of the manufacturers not to adulterate these lush leaves with anything nasty; any additives; any anorexic pesticides.
But Mum, that’s not the point.
No, no thank you. I’d rather eat the whole bag than sneak one.
Well I’ll tell you. Look here at this neat little packet, very pretty yes? Decorated in all these numbers down the side, an exact measurement of kcal and g. Of course that’s exactly what will be in the packet. That or less. One can trust these companies to scrape by with the bare minimum: they cannot make a profit by being generous.
What are you doing? No I don’t want a packet Mum. That’s not what I meant. I was just making a point.
An exact, precise point.

Control variables in my life are being monitored.
This constant counting and recounting, documenting what I let happen today.

Anonymous applies precision theory to the science of weight gain.
Weight is an important source for my nurses. It tells the simple tale of my week in recovery.
But it is a clumsy and fickle thing, weight. I don’t trust it.
Every Monday morning between 10:02-10:07, I stand on the time and place to recover. Anorexia scrutinises the number flashing from the scales. Staring down, she stares it down and strips it back.
Immediate checks on that number are carried out. My weight could latch on to a heavier vest, or get stuck in the grip of an extra couple of hairpins. A wall of water may get stuck in my cells after that extra glass last night.
Anonymous counts and moderates all the variables controlling my weight, not just my food. My clinic uniform is thin, lightweight. A single cotton layer that is proving ever more difficult to maintain now winter is closing in. Six studs; one glass of water aloud at breakfastime. Four attempts to wee prior to entering the ward. I record the size and timeliness of stools as the pass, or not pass. Meals from supper the night before right through until breakfast are calibrated and checked by the clock.
Any reason to accuse weight it is lying.
Things are not improving.

Precision cuts anxiety down to a size I can manage.
To achieve precision, Anonymous questions everything until every answer is the same. Nothing is ever worked out, yet here she is working on it all the time.
Tablespoons levelled, scales balanced. A full life, half emptied. Dressing on the side. Just in case something slips past, just in case something is added to my life.
Precision theory forces a solution to get comfortable, and forces a thin answer from the lips of change: soon. But not yet, we can’t be better yet.

Cage myself in precision, knowing I won’t survive in the wild and random world.
Ellie took me out there once last week.

I padded into the kitchen to find Mum bending over a pot on the stove. The air was thick, wrapped in a herbal hue. I could hear mushrooms cackling as they were tickled by tomatoes.
This ratatouille recipe had been giggling in the pan not five days ago. Enough for two. I watched my parents slurp the spiced sauce whilst I nibbled on a lonely creation of my own. Ellie looked on indignantly. She must have missed something: ratatouille didn’t seem to be as worrying as it was rumoured to be. A bit of olive oil, perhaps the tomatoes splitting their sides as they giggled in a sugar rush. Perhaps we hadn’t missed anything: perhaps it was just a miscalculation.
Anonymous scratched her head again as Ellie handed her mother three plates. Just a portion, please. An Ellie sized portion.
Thick wedges of stewed vegetables sank onto porcelain. We shared a supper together, delighting in the madness of not knowing who had that bigger slice of courgette, the larger spoon of sauce. They were roughly the same: and roughly was fine. Roughly was rustic, homemade. Marked out to be interesting and unpredictable. The same definition of life, wouldn’t you agree?
There were no numbers to add up. The supper just worked. This plate of food didn’t need to be questioned, for it was perfect.

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Feast your eyes.

The next day in the clinic, I wasn’t weighed. It’s a doctor’s way of throwing Anorexia’s eye off the ball. We will never know the impact of that Ratatouille.
I pondered the meaning of ratatouille, and tried to weigh up the possible impact it would have had on my calorie intake. An anomaly of 50-100kcal, perhaps? Ellie considered this no further that evening. She is learning, slowly, that a blip like this doesn’t tarnish the bigger picture. If anything, it adds some colour, some character.

Let’s look at the bigger picture. I see no points, only smooth learning curves.
When Anorexia focuses my sights on a small, sick number, it is difficult adjusting my sights onto the something as big as Life. I can’t bring myself to look this big brute in the eye. Look away so I don’t look back; not scare the future away by staring longingly.
I just stare down at the scales, focusing on the immediate and imminent anxiety the next mouthful of kcal could bring. Then let Precision be the only comfort when treading the exact route to nowhere.
Anorexia looks after the details. It’s all she can cope with, it’s all she can reach.
That’s why the portrait of an Anorexic Life is so bare, so dull.
Predictable brush strokes skirt life’s boundaries, missing them.
Barely scraping the edges.

Precision is an exact science, whereas Hope is only a theory.
I’m experimenting with Hope. Using the nut theory I mentioned in my previous blog post, I was weighed today.
I walked into hospital proud, prepared. I smiled and cried, and let relief rain down. The number went up, and so did the bar. Now, Ellie, you need to keep going. You need to keep gaining.

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Let’s be having you then

We never could have predicted the outcome of the Nut Experiment. Neither Ellie nor Anonymous thought it would give birth to a new age of Hope. A precise point, somewhere in the future.