Theory of Nuts

A fresh piece of debris: a brazil nut. This fat, woody wedge. And look here, a handful of gnarled cashews. Splintered almonds. The buttery flesh of nature’s pills: natural capsules of good things. They had been a staple, rattling around my diet plan since I entered recovery. Then, I lost them. Anonymous shed them, shrugging off the extra weight: that extra 400 kcal that would get my weight moving again. They’ve been crushed underfoot as time trampled by. Listen to them crunch.
Here is the problem. The Nut problem. What is in a Nut?
What is the meaning of Nuts?

Let us step away from the scales a moment. Take a seat.
Shut my food diary and turn the clock’s face away. Switch off your screen’s harsh light, the glare will never see through this shiny surface.
Sit beside me, just here in my chair. There. Now, we can begin.

23757765_910433539112079_1664424491_oI step onto the time and place to recover, every Monday between 10:02 – 10:07. Let’s watch the numbers flash: a light show during a heavy downpour. It is over as quickly as it began. The sharp spike of kg digs deep and starts to bleed as I pull away from the scales. The numbers stare me down. My nurse is the only witness to the crime of change: up or down. Up, then down.

Weight is a fickle thing. We have to watch it every week, just to be sure. The progress across an axis is monitored, only colouring between the lines of the bigger picture. The number on those scales tell a simple tale of my week in recovery. Not the full story, but just enough to say whether or not Ellie did it this week. Did you try it, Ellie?
The stats from the last few weeks have been dull. The readings make up an Anorexic script.
Everyone else watches me, dithering.
Dithering in my chair, watching time lash against the pains.

The greatest challenge this anorexic faces is the small problem of weight gain. The Eating Disorder unit have been frowning at Anonymous’ behaviour patterns, concerned now. I just can’t seem to get my head around it, no matter how hard I put my mind to it. Somewhere, there is a leak.
A weakness.

Normally, I sit down in a chair opposite my nurse. It groans in protest as I lower Ellie and Anonymous into it’s arms. Clutching those pinewood arms, I confront my nurse’s questions. Grounded on the ward floor, I am the chair. Heavy and unmoving. Part of the furniture. Somewhere to put my life for awhile, before it has to be packed up and taken home again.

“Take a seat, Ellie. Just here beside me.” my nurse beckoned, waving me over.
Ellie rose from this chair, and took three steps across the room. Past the whiteboard, past the notes, past the window. Ellie sat beside my nurse, in the deep unchartered territory of an onlooker. Anonymous snuggled up, still on the other side of the room. This new chair held my back up, as if it were unused to being sat upon with such uncertainty. It was a very nice chair. Lots of support, and so much room.
I looked back across the room, at my lonely chair.
The silence began to growl. My nurse broke it with a prompt: “From here, what do you want to say?”
Want.
You’re fooling nobody Ellie. Of course you know.
The more I interrogate her, the more she admits, the more she confesses. She is fascinating. She confides and condemns. From this unflattering angle, I noticed an ugly trend in the answers she gave to my questions. I was being ripped off by that three letter word that meant nothing to me: you.
You are why. You are what.
The chair cowered, the only thing it was afraid of, was me. Ellie, you are the reason I cannot get out of that chair. Because of you.
Every question was an accusation. I shrank in my chair and listened to everything come down to me. The thin fault line we had been tracing thickened in my blood. I just wanted to leap up and out, and tear apart her peace of mind, her reason why. Peace, by piece.

You’re the nut.

From the other side of the room, I saw it happen. I watched Ellie tie herself up in knots, and hold herself back. She shackled herself to patienthood so she’d never escape and realise what she might be capable of. Only I can guess what I’m capable of doing,
or provoking.
Yes Ellie, maybe it is you I am most afraid of. How frightening you must be, for me to choose Anorexia instead.

I admit it. I know.

Back in my normal chair, I slotted back into Anonymous. Cringing, shame crawling all across my skin. I tried to sit tall, to uphold myself. Then I felt an osteoporotic bolt charge up my spine, and reality once again gripped me.
(Observation: I wanted to write “paralysed with fear” here, but worried I might jinx it. That by saying it, I might give fate permission to let something bad happen. Anxiety speaks for me, just so I don’t mess that up too.)

That session came home with me. Ellie began to pay attention to her thoughts as they raged and rumbled through her head. She caught them as they turned in on each other. Ingrowing thoughts pile up and protrude, blinding my mind’s eye. A cancerous, sticky lump that blocks up the way out of Anorexia.
If I track my thoughts, I can turn them on Anorexia. Away from me – get away from me.
When I had asked where to start off again down the road to recovery, the answer had been you. Where did you last see it?

When I start to lose the plot of my writing, I walk away. Leave it a day or two, take the time to gather the angry mob trying to break out of my pen. I reorder these thoughts, carry out some background checks: themes; opposites; synonyms; origins … words soon form an orderly queue, and ink floods the page.
When I lose the plot of my life, I do the same. Retreat into my bedroom, turn off all the lights and curl up on floor. There, no light can contradict what I know is lurking in the dark.
Now I’ve lost the plot of my nuts, I must also do the same. I stood away from the scales. I cut off Nuts and numbers, and began my interrogation. Unpicking the problem, spreading it’s innards across a spider diagram. (See Fig. 1)

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Fig. 1

Nuts = 400kcal = +0.4kg = weight gain = change = possible recovery = n/a. No reliable sources to say what “recovery” would mean, or if it would be ethical to explore it.
Fiction and fact became inbred and raised a new species of anxiety: where recovery was immune to weight. Where the nuts needed to be extinct – because of the ill will of nature.

Thus, I deduced the following answer:

Life   = Nuts
Time

Therefore: Life = nuts x time.

Or, Nuts every time.

Ah, but what is x happens? Recovery: the unanswerable theory of Everything.
Oh Ellie, what if it doesn’t?

My clinics are getting heavier.
Unpicking me from the grip of Anorexia leaves punctures in the thick skin I’ve been hiding beneath. I bite into a memory then spit out the shell of shock. Question marks are swallowed only to get stuck. The answers rise as lumps in my throat. Words crammed together by hyphens and ellipses. Silence is strung out, before something gives. A story, or a tear. Anything we can work with:
Once, and again – Anxiety was put on ice. A tongue tripped me up, a glass became charged with obligation.
That time I typed Trouble into the search box.
Where I was, and wasn’t. When. Why.
My birthday, lurking only a few days away. I need to talk about that, if I can get it into the room without Anxiety dragging me away, and attacking.

Grounded on the ward, my nurse has asked me to prepare for sessions, not brace myself for them.
I heave an issue into the room with me, and sit it between our two chairs. Sometimes, that’s all I’ll manage in a day. Other times, we can pull it apart. Piece, by peace.
I’ll go away and do my homework on it. Diaries, unpublished blogs; spider diagrams, tight chests and angry outbursts.
This is the revision of my life, and it is hard. Heavy. Just so I can attempt to answer this question: Why not find out what recovery would mean?
Imagine.

Imagine what you’d be able to do, Ellie, if you put all this work into something that wasn’t trying to kill you.

No cliche can make up for the reality. A leap or a jump is a sorry apology for what it is to just do it. To stop chewing over the gains and losses, the theory of nuts and theory of thin.
Anorexia questions everything until all the answers are the same. I cannot think my way out of this eating disorder, it has to be weighted out.
This we know: it is a scientific process.
This, a problem so big – so heavy – that I got stuck in this chair. I can’t bear it.

I need extra help getting out of my chair. This conclusion was drawn from last night’s spider diagram on treatment options.
Let the weight drop, and I can move out of the chair – into a hospital bed.
Stay as you are if you wish Ellie, but your treatment won’t. Eight hour days, seven days a week as a day patient awaits you to force those numbers up to the high altitudes that accommodate those clouds of rationality.
Or go – just let Ellie go, and discharge yourself. Stop wasting all this time, all this money. Stop wasting space.
Neither Anorexia nor Ellie can stand being like this. Not ill enough to finally die, not well enough to realise what a privilege it is to live, to be free.
I want out of this chair: I want out of this Anonymous life. Ellie has been offered an extra day a week in this chair, and we intend to take it. A final push over the edge: to see if I can do this for me.

Look at all this work.
Look at what you did for yourself last week Ellie: you quit that job. When the air turned rancid with dread, when you looked at toxic in the face and rightfully ran away. It’s hard being proud of quitting my job as a waitress, because I did it for Ellie.
Anorexia doesn’t understand what’s hit her. Already, she is calculating the exercise loss. Trying to balance out the equations with a pilates class, an extra walk.
She can already feel pieces of my person breathe a big sigh of relief, grateful to make it through that final shift and come out alive. Grateful, because she found she could try.

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Sorry for the vulgar gesture. I blame Ellie.

Look at these scales. Start here.
Just do it.
For one week, try eating those nuts. See what happens.
All the variables are controlled by you, Ellie. I’ve got it all worked out. You’ll lose or gain 0.4kg, according to science.
Just try it: see if you’re worth it.

Moveable Feasts

My decision to defer university for another year left devastation in it’s wake. Every day sinks deeper. Loss is a natural disaster, and it has taken a while for grief to catch up. Finally, it has arrived.
When the “whether” broke and the decision dawned on me, the pressure dropped and sucked anxiety away.
In the few days that followed my deferral, Anonymous took cover in the eye of the storm, and let relief rain. Together we watched the waves of anguish build as September approached. The ghost of my leaving date leered.
I wade into another day of Recovery. My reason to eat was washed away, and disorder was left in it’s wake.
It is a storm too big to get over. No, all I can do now is get through it. Slash through each day as it comes. Stand away from the tides of triggers, and wait for it all to pass.

We are all trying to grapple with what has just happened. I have been feeling my way down the levels of grief, gathering my thoughts together. Denial was first to disrupt the calm climate of relief. It passed by in relief: shrugging off questions, and letting distraction shield me from the nip in the air. Realisation froze over in the following week. The sugary rush of relief passed, and now grief craves a home. Somewhere to place this feeling, some direction or purpose.

Here is grief.
Ellie found words with no meaning.
Pages of writing for nobody to read.
Illness there for nothing, but health.
No doubt to eat, no regret to drink. No satiety for the full.
Nothing to make anything from.
A plot lost in the story.

I also found a body. Let us examine this specimen here, in the mirror: where it was first discovered. It was last seen 2kg ago, stumbling across a weight graph towards a hospital admission. Notice it was discovered far from the inpatients unit: it must have endured those 2kg just to escape more intensive treatment. Goodness, it has been through a lot in the short space of two months.
Food complimented Ellie by rushing to the parts she is most proud of. Fat flirts with my face, the weight on my cheeks only trying to make my smile come back. High priority was given to my face in particular: the one that speaks for and represents the brain it cradles. This aid was distributed to protect my brain. I suppose I should feel flattered that Ellie believes this mind is worth protecting.
This weight is incriminating: it proves that in this instance, Anonymous lied. Time blew over what Anorexia blew out of proportion: that extra 2kg didn’t look as horrifying as it should have. Had the scales not pointed it out, I probably wouldn’t have noticed. Of course, now it is obvious. Now, it’s the next 2kg I’m worried out.
The eye of the storm watches me deciding what to do with the body.

Grief broke Recovery’s image: now I see a liar. It told me I would get out if I gained a little weight. Struggling against the tide of grief took kcal..

Anonymous wrapped her arms around my meal plan, and squeezed it tight.
My glass of milk was reduced to a dribble in a cup of tea – decaf – sipped to stretch my “snack” hour out. Nuts rained like bullets into the bin, they were the first casualties in the retreat. Anonymous blocked up all calories leaking in through liquid, resulting in a breakfast drought. Today, she eyed up my yogurt. How many kcal is it worth trying to save, Ellie?
The storm broke, and restriction soaked up the floods of panic. Still, they come in waves. I caught Ellie’s eye wandering, looking at Anorexia in awe.
She’s still got it.

After being pushed into a crowd of emotions, I withdrew. I turned off my phone, I left work after only 2 hours. Still, I couldn’t escape time. It was crushing.

From behind my closed door, Anonymous spied on my family. Ellie progressed backwards and responded only to the adrenaline surge that beat her head against the wall.
Where I couldn’t control my emotions, I controlled my environment. Anonymous counted the calories on my parents plates before she made a meal of preparing her own supper. She caught a whiff of unsolicited cooking – 15:00hrs; 09/09/2017; a slow cooker – and defended herself with venom. The world turned against me, so I turned my head against the wall: one, two, three. Doors that shut with a crack, squeak, sigh cued an anorexic attack.
One, two, three.
Pennies and pins dropped, and cracked through the house like a whip. Kindness and cruelty were made mute, their tongues cut off on eggshells.
The calm after the storm never arrived, the rage just kept building.
One, two, crack –

The paintwork is bruised from where my head hits it. I use the same place every time: the strong and silent type, the sort my parents would never find out about. If it weren’t for the screaming.
Self harm is just another form of grief: just another action that will never have the words to explain itself. The injured character, looking for a victim.

I couldn’t contain Anorexia. There was just so much to manage, and I needed her help. In such turbulent times, the only permanent thing is change.

After the storm, I pieced together an existence for Anorexia to work on, and for Ellie to work with. Sifting through lies, limits and numbers; trying to disorder kcal to reorder kg.
I asked for my job back, and squashed all temptation of university under administration and paperwork.
A dream of other offers a full recovery can offer swam before my eyes. Travel, writing, good books, a different course or different –
wait. I’m getting ahead of myself. I think it is just so Grief doesn’t catch up with me again.

A gathering of thoughts, a triggering job, and Time.
This is what has been left over.
A reason to set an alarm in the morning.

Losing university is just another loss. Another one. What, Ellie, have you got to lose now? What is there left for Change to take away?
Life cannot be this greedy. If I only asked, perhaps it would give something back. Like Time. That slippery, omniscient narrator: the one Anorexia cannot stop. I must spend this time wisely: or else Recovery will run away with it.

I looked back at my decision as it receded. Unshaken, it holds its head up high. It was made right, out of honest reasons for which I am proud of. As are my parents and doctors. I don’t trust my own thoughts because they are infected, but I know this one is clean. Everyone was having it: I’m not ready for university yet. It is not the ned of the world, as it seemed at first. As if the world has any sort of limited to meeting my deadline of returning to university now. No, I just need more time.

This is a blot on my manuscript. A mistake.
Reading over the last two weeks, I can see my characters turn on each other. The narrative changed. It’s nature turned erratic, and I lost my place. I can’t remember where I left Recovery.
This is not how my life was meant to be.

The plot, and Ellie’s blood, thickens.
How empty those words sound, how grievous.

Make or Break

I watched the decision through the eye of a storm.

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

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What to do.

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

Come closer.

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

Come closer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mind: the Gap

Every morning, I unfold Body Image and examine it in the mirror. The glass fogs up with smoke.
From under piles of leggings and wooly socks, I pick out the same pair of words I wore yesterday, and the day before, and the one before that. They don’t suit each other very well, but they’ve been crammed next to each other in a sentence anyway.
The mirror cracks into a smile, and the girl bulges from side to side through the glass. Anonymous leans in and looks for my new number: she looks to see where that 0.5kg went this week. Damage to Anonymous’ shell dimples my cheeks and plumps out the cushions around my legs. Whispers of health pass by in a curl of strengthened hair. A single blush graffitis a perfect shade of pale.
Anorexia keeps my body caged in an image, and accessorises it with her thoughts, and her judgements. They are narrow and unflattering, fiercely protective of the sharp edges the marks her boney borders.
Ellie looked at the image before her and shook her head, wondering why weight must be in the foreground. It takes up the whole picture: the only hard evidence that recovery is passing through. It just seems so out of proportion. Far too big and taking up far too much space.

I put Body to one side, making sure it was folded up so the creases were as thin as possible. The mirror gaped at what was left of my Image. Ellie, Anonymous, and myself. A gathering of unsavoury characters, and a story full of holes.

I had negotiated a 4 week gap between my hospital assessments, in order to prove that I do not need to be admitted as a day patient into the Eating Disorder Unit. It never occurred to me that I had just dug myself another hole, and found another empty gap to fill.
My plate was piled high with promises: the dietary increases would start tomorrow. The scales would fall away to weight welcomed with pride. Time would crack, and prise Anonymous away from my meal plan. Ellie would testify that she could react to Anxiety in some other way than cutting off her crusts, or watering down a smoothie. For four weeks, Anonymous has had nothing to eat but her own words. Here is the bitten word: weight gain.
Anorexia fed me denial for the first week. Surely, I didn’t need to increase my diet. All this food is far too big, and takes up far too much space. It wouldn’t be real, just a trick of gravity.
-0.1kg.
The second week, I dithered in my comfortable gap between an increase, and an intention. +- 0kg. An anomaly, surely. Ellie had been gnawing around the hull of her strawberries, and licked the spoon twice. Those teaspoons of hummus had been heaped for heaven’s sake. Still, the image flickered on the scales.
The third week, I was pushed into it. Anonymous’ logic was sweet as I ate it, and spat it out. A tablespoon of nut butter melted into my porridge, and it conjured up a miracle. +0.5kg.
Don’t let that slip between your fingers, Ellie.

It is so easy to talk myself out of increases, so I literally have to eat my words.

I unfolded up those numbers, and held them up into the light. Then realised what I was looking at. A gap had opened up between my meal plan and my metabolism. That’s the crack my efforts were falling into.
Ellie closed her eyes, and braced herself. It was so deep, and so dark.

Anxiety has been trying to talk me into staying in this hole, I think. It’s hard to tell, because I don’t ever fully understand what it’s trying to tell me.
When it tries to speak, rational words become strangled, crushed by the pressure of so much emotion climbing upon it from such a height. Change looms up there, and it alarms Anxiety. So it starts making all this noise.
Listen, Ellie. What is Anxiety actually trying to tell you?

My brain hasn’t got the kcal to waste on thinking efficiently. Ellie is so out of practice in dealing with her thoughts, that she ends up over-thinking. This often results in a obsessive surge, and then Reason blacks out. Anxiety has to take over: someone has to reestablish order.
It spat thoughts in my face with every mouthful.
An extra centimetre of cucumber burnt my tongue like acid.
A Times article on the possible – improbable – irreversible damage a whiff of bacon can wreck on metabolism crippled me for days afterwards. I hobbled around work in the coming days, desperately trying to shield my nose from the aromas rising off my customer’s plates.
Suddenly, my legs were being prised open all over again. Food blared between the pages of my magazine. I was catching fat from that person on the train and this person in the queue. An angry, vengeful rash of pregnancies and STIs came back to bite me from the past.
Thoughts gathered together and descended upon me like a mob. Time was chewed up and pressed harder against this four week window. Failure stared straight through me.
Of course Anxiety felt threatened. She was crying out for help. Anorexia is in trouble, she is being exposed.
Your friend needs help. She helped you, remember?
Each hour was littered with signs to turn back and retreat into my hole.

There were cracks just waiting to swallow me up as I advanced forward, trembling with fright from the spectre of hospital food.

Looking into the future, Anonymous can already see cracks that will trip me up further down the road to Recovery. That one just there, the one hiding just behind my mirror. And over there, the gap between “weight restored” and “recovered”. That’s a hard fall there: one which nobody cares about, and nobody takes seriously.

Some holes are placed just where Anonymous can trip other people up too.
The space between your mouth and my ears is dangerous. Meaning leaves your tongue with good intentions. Healthy compliments fall ill as they travel over the gap of understanding. When I receive them, they are twisted and tortured into Anorexic weaponry.
It is so easy to offend Anorexia: just remind her she is failing. Just point out she is weak enough to let me get this healthy, to “look so well”. When someone falls into this trap, Ellie gets dragged down too. If we look so “well” at this weight, Ellie, why should you want to gain any more?

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Anonymous worries if Ellie looks too happy in a picture.

Anorexia tries to press her image up against your screen, so the gap in your knowledge widens. My social media pages are subject to censorship: she has an image to uphold. She needs to maintain her anomity: it is what keeps her safe.
Let us unfold a few that have been cast out. I wear them well.
Here, a plate of food. Pictures of food: proof of Anorexic failure. Ellie: are you eating solid food yet? This is one hole Ellie wants to explore. I have now set up a ‘sister’ instagram account where I can put pictures up of some of the (very exciting) food I eat. It can be found @eatenbyellie and is designed to add detail to the picture of Ellie, who is recovering. And she is proud of it.

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I just want to show off how pretty food is 😉

Ah, what about this one: Ellie wearing something nice. I had dithered in front of the mirror for hours. Shall you wear pretty, or thin? Whichever is more comfortable, or whichever you feel the most confident in.
Any image of me is fed to you in self-defence. Anorexia isn’t cool: it is freezing. And so very lonely. I struggle to see friends who will only have a memory of Anonymous. I am still competing against my own ghost; even if Ellie is so much better than she was.
Please, don’t offend Anonymous. She is my friend, and I trust her.
Scrolling through loneliness and desperation and inadequacy: other people can be blind to what is pictured on a screen. Look for that gap. Can you hear the screaming?

In the mirror, I can see holes in Recovery’s smile. The gap between my assessments made it crack from side to side, and reveal a set of perfectly disordered gaps in my understanding of this illness. Somehow, I fell through a crack.
Nestled in Now: somewhere between the past and the future, I am trying to find a face to pull over this gaping hole. Perhaps covering it up is as inefficient as Anxiety’s communication. It’s just that finding something to fill all these holes summons Fear from the pit of it’s hovel.

Recovery will work with Nothing to make Something, and it will possibly mean Everything. I have learnt that it will possibly be drafted and redrafted, edited, scraped, compared and contrasted with the other side of the gap, the other side of the argument. Always trying to be bigger and better and thinner than the last mouthful of words.
Ellie just needs to keep chewing through the knots of her confusion.
Eventually, Recovery will unfold another image of life beyond maintaining the image of a thin body. Surely, it will be more filling than this morsel of life.
Because this just isn’t Ellie. Anorexia simply isn’t me.

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.

Dirty Looks

Shame is dirty. I have become diseased, and now my writing is all blocked up.
Bloated and blasphemous words rest in the nib of my pen. It is poised motionless above a thin line, snaking across a crisp page. Sterile and empty paper.
Here I violate it’s purity. Black ink slashes a single filthy sentence: I am struggling.

Recovery embarrasses my friend Anonymous. It gets dirt in her eyes, and all she can see is where she has been touched, man-handled and defiled. That label reading “Anorexic” has been scuffed and smeared in Ellie’s efforts to rip it from my body.
Shame stares. A plea for help dies on my lips and Anonymous smiles.

There never seemed to be a cure for Ellie’s Shame. Others tried various practices: venomous maltreatment merely enraged the symptoms, and denial encouraged them. Anonymous licked my wounds and sucked Shame dry. Expectation was lb-ed until it was st. cold. I shrank under Guilt’s glare, and shed the weight of the world.
I was clean, immune, untouchable.
She was rewarded with a label that read “Anorexic”.

We are being watched.
Anorexia never suffered from Shame because she was numb to it, and enslaved it to guard me.

Shame witnesses me making food choices. I can taste rotten regret, and every grimy bite crunches: wrong answer. Restriction is a punishment that must be carried out in silence. Seen on the scales every week but never heard in an answer to that empty question: “So, why haven’t you gained any weight this week?”.
The freedom of choice is ridden with disease. I can numb the painful weakening of Anonymous’ grip by choosing to fill my glass just below the line; by always choosing the smallest half; by always choosing that slice: You don’t need a thicker one.

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Still really struggling with the smoothie increase.

If someone catches me complying with my grotesque, weight-gaining and weakness-willing meal plan, we are humiliated.
In her arrogance, Anonymous climbs into this person’s head, and presumes to tell me exactly what they think of me. I listen to her brag, and brag, and brag.
“Anorexic”.
You don’t deserve that name. You aren’t enough. Morsels of food taste fake on my tongue, so I swallow them with my pride. Paranoia unfolds it’s protective petals over my eyes. Anonymous knows what you’re thinking.
She agrees.
Ellie lifts up a finger, and traces the tears and frays of the label. Then she begins to clean it, rubbing away the dirt and wearing down the calories.

In a mute margin, I watch other people read my tag “Recovering Anorexic”, and wait. Questions ready wounds to become septic with shame: “What do you eat?”.
Accusation breathes in a sigh. Rolling eyes flash in furious frustration. A lingering stare casts a lonely, cold shadow. Other people read my tag “Recovering Anorexic”, and I wait to feel filthy.

I picked up a piece of dirt and presented it: “Please help me, I’m not coping.”
Proud perfection has let my job make demands my recovery cannot meet: 5:15am alarms and clean cutting comments. Membrane grazes the lining of my skull. Impulses itch and squeeze across synapses. Fragments of thought ooze, flash and freeze. Feeble beats flutter, flicker and die. I am swollen with exhaustion. Pride steals the plea for help that sits on the tip of my tongue: we would be mortified.
I called in sick for work, the litter of slashed silence crunched underfoot: an applause. My admission cured a problem, and made me stronger.

Here I present to you a piece of dirt: I have to gain weight, but Anonymous doesn’t want to. I’m all blocked up again, all confused and filthy. I am struggling. Her thoughts are so clean, it’s hard to believe Ellie when she tells me they are poisonous.

Dirt is good.
Nothing grows in sterile safety. Experience is a vital nutrient that festers in the undergrowth, and is needed to germinate seeds of survival. Buds nod their wise heads to Shame with respect rather than revulsion.
Recovery expects me to learn how to cope with a struggle. So yes, sometimes dirt is good.

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My lovely Billy. Thank you for bringing joy to my heart.

A dog’s mouth is cleaner than a human’s: and much less frightening.
A new member of the family arrived this week: cute, cuddly and complete with a wagging tail. Our Billy, a labrador puppy.
As the day of his arrival crept closer. Expectation soiled my excitement: how do I explain myself when Billy can’t make me better? You don’t deserve him. How do I explain myself when I can’t cope?
What if …?
Expectation is a phantom. Oh Billy, what joy you bring. I dusted rigid routine to one side, and we adapted it around Billy, as Billy adapted around us: both in and out of the kitchen.

Moved a little table just in case I need to eat in peace

Thank you for being so happy to see me when I come down in the morning.
Thank you for understanding why I can’t feed you, yet.
Thank you for teaching me how to dance in the kitchen again.

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Showing me how it is done!

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.