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.

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.

Miss Davies

A hand reached out to take a sandwich.
Amongst muddy knees, running noses and paint splashed cotton, I watched the boy push his hair out of his eyes and bite into it. Marmite squeezed between his fingers. My breath stiffened, and waited.
His face cringed. “Wow, that is STRONG.”
“and so SALTY.”
Marmite is not a political issue in my household. Anorexia hasn’t wasted kcal considering it before. I had tried to prepare for the responsibilities of my new job, but not this. Not a marmite sandwich.
Fresh out of lessons, the children teemed into my classroom. As “Miss Davies”, I stuff their snack, activities, tea and energy into three hours and clean the set ready for the next day. In a week, “Miss Davies” survived the administrative health checks, and passed the food handling assessments (I’m laughing too). “Miss Davies” built a den in the woods; modelled paper hats; dressed Barbie in Ken’s clothes; and conducted bulb-planting in the playground. Alas, the competent facade fell away when “Miss Davies” had to make a batch of marmite sandwiches for tea.
I’ve never been confronted by a marmite sandwich before in my life. Anonymous, unhelpful as ever, volunteered the logic that other people need more. To make Ellie feel better, other people need to be eating more.
The knife scooped out a gleaming blob of that satanic spread. Like an oil spill, it engulfed the bread. A rusting of breadcrumbs was the only evidence there had been any in the first place. More guesswork and suppositions were spread, layered and quartered. Served up on plates as the children began to cheep.
He swallowed. I held my breath.
“There’s NEVER this much marmite!”
“… can we have some MORE?”
Miss Davies waited, then released the air she had cornered in her lungs. “What do you say?”
“Can we have some more PLEASE?”
The comments about the next batch were thinly spread. Yet the content quiet devoured every last mouthful.
I looked down at Miss Davies’ hands, now covered in food. For the children, it seems Ellie can wash her hands of that fear. She has no choice: let them eat marmite sandwiches.

Anonymous drew back from my new job as soon as it was offered to me. She plucked words from the job description and twisted them into an anxious script.
This 3 hour window each weekday lets in a blast of uncertain energy expenditure, and sucks her afternoon walk away. Anonymous’ calorie budget gets scrubbed out by random bursts of sitting or standing, bending and crouching.
The children’s menu was sniffed at when she spotted smelly foods and sticky foods.
‘What-Ifs’ and ‘Protection Procedures’ decorated the walls with worry.
Anxiety swept the classroom and could predict the acoustic bedlam: riotous laughter clashing with squeaky shoes and marble run. Noise still shakes me like an alarm: one day, it might shake me so hard I’ll fall into distraction, and something bad could happen.
Getting this job at this school would scavenge a day away from my other job as a waitress: would save a day treading Ellie slowly into the ground.

Everything about working in that restaurant hurts.
The moist and dingy conditions sustain anorexia, and Anonymous strains have become tangled in the strings of my apron.
Anxiety runs riot across a floor mined with shopping bags, ducking as the blitz of shattering glass rains into my shoes like water. Puddles of anorexic sweat mingle with the unidentified fluid objects that claw at my toes, the smell clinging to my shoes. Paranoia is placed precariously down the crooked stairs into the dungeon: the kitchen that imprisons a handful of exhausted chefs and one poor, unfortunate waiter. The tribute, who was volunteered by some higher power to run food to table 10 – 63 – 42 –
My nurse watch in horror as shifts devour 8 or 9 hours apiece. Time is swallowed up standing, summating the lunchtime rush, trekking as far away as possible from the carnage tearing through my own head.
Anonymous enjoys the show. She watches me dodge a fistful of peas thrown by another perfect toddler. She grits my teeth and takes orders for steaks, fish pies, burgers. Anonymous nestles Ellie under the people whose mouths fill with saliva, sugar and salt – but never a please or thank you.
The air in there assaults me, and my anorexia flares up. I hold offensive articles at arms length and march at a pace, just to get to the table in time to escape again.
My breaths are rationed, and confined to several ‘safe spots’ near the ventilation. Ellie literally holds her breath until the end of the day. Fumes rise off customer’s plates even after they’ve finished.
Miss Davies’ hands are protected by napkins each time she has to pick any dishes up. They provide a thirty second grease barrier, before they too become sodden. A wheezing disinfectant spray cannot save the cloth that wipes up all manner of sin.
Anonymous sometimes breaks out in a nervous rash when serving overweight people. I cannot reuse the air around them in case I catch fat. Their money is held by the corners, their card payments contactless. It is one of the most shameful symptoms of my anorexia, one of the most hurtful.
With the high risk of exposure, any cross contamination is washed away in the sink next to table 56. Every time I walk past it. My hands are cracked from the chemical sterilisation.
In the car, my waitressing costume is quarantined. Shoes are removed and placed in a plastic bag, wet wipes wiping the grime off my forehead, the cleft in my nose, my frown lines.
Work will always follow me home, and catch up with me just as I walk through the door. There Anonymous is confronted by the trauma of her job, my parents, Billy. Please Billy, please don’t lick me. I’m filthy, I’m filthy.
In the shower I wash away the day.
A day’s work somehow makes the ends of reason meet, and I can afford a better snack: Anonymous lets me have a slightly bigger date, or heap my teaspoon of honey. Only by enduring a gruelling day do I earn that.

There is a thin reason for staying in this job. I just need that hit of High Intensity Harm. It is an expensive addiction. It has already cost me kcal, days in recovery pcm, and car parking.
Anonymous won’t cut the apron strings. It fits Anorexia: the monotonous routine, the warm superiority I am wrapped up in watching someone else eat whilst I starve. The Anonymous waitress is an ironic character: almost the fool, only better. She thinks.
I need to quit, I need to get clean.
Just not yet. If those 8 hours of exercise are stripped back, I don’t know what will be uncovered.

I watch Autumn’s generosity, and am in awe. Trees lay down their leaves before the retreating daylight, and welcome the violent, blustering storms as they pass through. The air releases the pressure, and nature lets go. All the energy stolen by summer is now returned to the earth. Sinking under piles of dead leaves. This, the seasonal retreat away from things that are over-ripe, chewy, no longer useful. I watch Autumn simply let’s itself go, and drift slowly back to earth.

Anorexia’s mother tongue will die out as the weight comes on. A dialect riddled with baggy pants will slip into the past tense. Only my words will retain an Anonymous accent. Struggle is covered up in Anorexia:
the stamp of a diagnosis.
– join dots of blood with drops of sweat
piece together broken
promises and roll,
roll strands into a joint or a line but thin keep it thin
thinner still;
bottle it up and put it on ice,
drink me dry, lick me clean
use the s word or r word or x word against mine, and your own;
then leash a tag, a stamp, #metoo –
#toomanyhashtags.
Explain the holes.
– what Change forgot to take away.

There is a conspiracy of silence. One day, it will be uncovered.
I’ll kick a pile of leaves talked down from their twigs. My thoughts will straighten into a strong, natural line.
My nurses are going to start pushing me now: our approach thus far has been too weak, too baggy. I need to eat in front of them, but I also need to talk to them.

A job gives me something else to chew over during the day. Something that isn’t myself, a piece of my mind, or food. I chew so vigorously polishing cutlery, or herding children, just to drown out the sound of my thighs expanding. In the clamour of the classroom and racket of a restaurant, Anonymous sucks on a sweet peace of mind.
I know which job Ellie enjoys the most. I know which job is sustainable in recovery.
Being anorexic makes me a good waitress.
But Anorexia is a language children don’t understand: they want to be sat with. They want a marmite sandwich. Long may that be the case.

In the mirror, I can see Change smile in all but myself.
I still can’t put my nuts back into my meal plan: not since they were taken out weeks ago. They are stuck.

Yes, I watch Autumn declutter with apparent ease.
I need to face the cold, icy reality of anorexia and recovery.
A winter of weight gain is inevitable: nature needs me to let go, and trust that the sun will rise on the other side.
Practice makes perfect: perhaps the first step is just closing your eyes, and swallowing. Get it over with.

I learned something delicious at school today.
Ellie has been practising so hard at thinking about sitting during the day. She learnt the theory, but didn’t have the conditions to test it. A pupil pushed me into it. She stood before me clutching a book, and wanted me to read with her. Oh, reading. That nourishing, liberating joy – that needs practising over, and over, and over. We sat for an unprecedented length of time, we devoured a chapter.
She learnt a new word, and how to train a dragon.
I learnt a new meaning: one that could help without hurting.
The sitting became irrelevant: it just didn’t mean anything anymore.

Looking at myself, I never found happiness. Perhaps I’ve been looking for the wrong thing: maybe it is meaning that will be uncovered,
if i recover.
I’ll never learn what it could mean to recover, unless I do.

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Do I look like a ‘Miss Davies’?

(An aftertaste: Anonymous is a fool to think looking after children is any less exhausting than walking. They are exhausting, but not draining.)

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.

Dress Code

It was feeding time on social media. A tag dragged my image kicking and screaming before an anonymous audience. Ellie looked to see if Anorexia had been lost in the post. I stalked my Anonymous appearance, scrolling through the costumes and props of a party, trying to spot her. She began to feel Fear Of Missing Out on an opportunity to display herself for all to see. She waited to reap reaction: like, love, anger, sad.
Somebody “liked” it, and another Somebody did too. I hid behind my screen, trying to reel in my imagination. It tried to climb behind Everybody’s eyes, and report back on what they thought of me. Then I saw it: that one photo that let off the aroma of progress. It gave Anonymous away. Compliments circled like vultures, and she realised she had been stitched up.

I had thrown the invitation away as soon as it arrived. There is nothing more offensive than being thought about when you claim to be Anonymous. The font curled like a claw across the card. “Ellie” was embellished with glitter. How had I let it be, that one of my friends had the tenacity to assume that I, the Anorexic, would be capable of attending her 21st birthday party?
Angry thoughts rattled me, and I threw the invite in the bin. Out of sight, out of mind: where we both belonged. The invite was a tasty morsel for Anonymous to chew on, to gnaw at me with. A challenge, thrown down at our feet through my letterbox. It demanded so much: to make an exhibit of this body; to subject it to the stares and judgement of Anybody and Everybody. It asked me to pose in a photograph with the wandering eyes and wagging tongues. To risk being caught in a crossfire of food or fun.
Anonymous was hurt. Anorexia wasn’t the one who had been invited: Ellie had. How insensitive. You see, Ellie, your friend doesn’t see that “anorexic” label hang from your name. She just sees your name. A name.

The dress needed to be confronted. I advanced towards it, holding up a garment I knew fitted: I needed a template. I needed something to size it up against. The dress hung it’s limbs, the silk straps recoiled and the waistline shrank away in my presence. Anonymous gathered her material, preparing herself for the inevitable destruction of her body image.
The dress didn’t look worn out anymore. It had served it’s time imprisoned in the attic, with all the other relics from my university years. The dress had debuted on Anonymous’ final show in Manchester: a society ball, where she put on a display of bones that gagged her friends. She had shoved Ellie to one side, and became the centre of Nobody’s attention. Stroking the silk, Anonymous relished the shapeless memory of starvation.
My Anorexic uniform seemed dull in comparison. I unzipped the dress – wait. I’m not ready yet. I couldn’t lie to Anonymous by trying on the dress on a full stomach. Hunched over the toilet for half an hour, I expelled every drop of liquid my body could muster. My tummy to backed down, mm by mm. I took the dress off the hanger – then Ellie stopped me. One more thing.
“Mum, I’m going to try my dress on.”
“Ok.”
A lot had to fit into that dress.

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Well hello there.

It seems only fitting to accept it. My dress fitted, properly this time. The clasp hugged me around the bust, not shunning my ribcage. The hem only grazed the floor, instead of being dragged along: I wore osteoporosis with pride, and stood up that much straighter. I had taken off an Anorexic layer for the evening.

The impending party tore disorder through my day. 19:00 crept closer, pushing my routine further into disarray.
Suppertime took a direct hit. It is embedded between 7 and 8pm. Ellie had to extract it, and transplant it to 6:15. Anonymous only approved this operation because an early supper would rip my “afternoon pick me up” out of the day altogether. A week before the party, we had stitched together a plan.
It was a misjudged decision, with no get out clause. On the day of the party, Anonymous began to feed scraps of my shredded routine to Anxiety. By 2pm, with four hours left until reaching the summit, I stumbled. The ‘weeping waitress’ must be becoming a regular sight outside my work: I wonder why she has been sent home this time?
Anonymous smacked her lips, then spluttered. She had been far too greedy, and felt sick: bloated on too much time. Being sent home from work bought Ellie an extra hour to fill. She had no excuse not to stuff it with her “afternoon pick me up” – my afternoon snack had been resurrected. Our plan to restrict had split under the weight of that extra anxious hour.

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Milk for pre-drinks 🙂

Minutes melted by. I ticked tasks off my time plan: 4:30 – pack lunch for work tomorrow; 5:00 – afternoon pick-me-up; 5:15 fix hair; 5:20 fix hair again because it won’t sit tight; 5:40 – start preparing supper. My timetable supervised me from my pocket, and we checked on it every few minutes to make sure we were on schedule. It was the only morsel of reassurance I had as time dried up around me.

I made a meal of choosing what to eat. Every mouthful of soup poked Anxiety awake, gagging in horror as it caught sight of the clock. Calories flooded my mouth in an unstoppable stream. It was too early: this body won’t have been ready to intercept all that food. My cells would be caught off guard, and drowned. I felt my belly grow stiff. Bloating would betray me. The small swell of my stomach is a mark of refeeding: I can’t help it. Bloating is just something that happens to me. My tummy still parties hard when it receives sustenance, and that afternoon it began to raise it’s roof.
I swallowed soup with a side of air. Hiccups accompanied many trips to the bathroom.
I was so nervous.
I had been stitched up in a dress by fear.

We had gathered together the material to rise to the occasion. When I arrived at the party, I wrapped myself up in it.

I recognised four faces in the crowd: Everybody, Anybody, Somebody, and Nobody. Nobody knew Everybody, but Everybody had Somebody to talk to. Nobody left Anybody out. I was weary of Anybody who brandished a camera, and carefully held My Body away from them.
Somebody rounded up a group and introduced Everybody. Of course, Everybody was trying to impress Somebody.
“This is Somebody, they are graduating with first class honours this summer.”
“Everybody meet Somebody else, they have been travelling. Around Denmark.”
“Has Nobody met Anybody? They have just been recruited in the city of London.”
“And this is Ellie.”
I looked down, not able to look Anybody in the eye. Silence ripped through that delicate thing that held me together.
“Ellie writes a blog.” Everybody looked at me, whilst Nobody laughed. They were interested. What do you write about? I write a blog about Somebody called Anonymous, I said to Everybody. It’s for Anybody to read, but really Nobody has to.
Sparkling water was put on ice, and I felt the party grow around me. Anonymous waited for Somebody to say it: she waited for Somebody to say I looked “better”. Instead, Nobody did. It had been so long since Anybody had seen My Body next to Some other Body. What Everybody thought of My Body is Anybody’s guess.

Adrenaline was worn out by 9pm. The layers of noise became incarcerating: clinking glasses, breathy sighs, piercing laughs.
Nobody said it, but Everybody knew I had to leave. Exhaustion escorted me back to my car just as Somebody served platters of food. Everybody, please be seated.
I’m sorry, I have to leave. I’m Anorexic, remember?

My imagination had been left behind at the party. It was stuck there, walking around in someone else’s shoes. I had watched other people relish the joy of being healthy, felt hunger bring a lump to my throat.

At home, tears washed away the shreds of my patched up day. Ellie, you did it. So much effort went into making an appearance at that party. So much managed to fit into that dress.

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Anonymous, you are not in my circle of friends.

Anor-versary

The end gave me somewhere to start. A year ago today, I was diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa. Finally, she had a name. It was such a relief. A diagnosis to point at, something to accuse.

The last year lies in pieces. Collected, chewed over and hoarded. They have swept me up and dumped me here: where I am now. One year into “recovery”, and shuffling along to the noise of a weight chart.

Weak synapses still suck information away from memory. So I am relying on evidence to trace the steps Ellie took to resuscitate the Will to recover, and show it how to breathe.
Anonymous keeps my food diaries; wrappers; calculations; inactive social media accounts; the litter collected after a blog brain storm. Evidence of a crime committed in the name of recovery. A point of reference should that graph spike. My bedroom has become a cemetery of dead memory. I have a whole box brimming with pocket notebooks. I can read her silence between the lines of this blog: there are somethings she won’t admit to – even here.

I turned the pages of my food diary, engrossed. In a year, a refeeding programme has grown into a meal plan. Out of a milky hue, the silhouettes of calorie increases swam into semi-skimmed focus. They trained my body to catch electrolytes in a shift, and slow weight loss. Stop weight loss. Ah, look. Here it began to reverse.
Increases have splattered colour onto my plate. An autumnal olive oil slick dripped in through fried spices; dressings; on vegetables. A carbohydrate assault looted fear of rye and wild rice, glimpsing the prizes still up for grabs. I started putting tastes to names: sourdough; buckwheat; couscous. Sugar rushed after it was introduced to me in a medjool date. Homemade falafel blocked the monotony of hummus at lunchtime. Remember the spring smoothie crisis?
I turned another page, blinded by colour. Highlights flared and died, dimming as they became habit. The winter “snack” massacre. That is a controversial one. Ellie has to use the politically correct term “afternoon pick-me-up”, to avoid an Anorexic riot. I can read emotion bleeding through the unspoken planning that goes into every bite.
Anonymous preserves my food logs in her archives, keeping tabs on any ill-judged decisions to lick a spoon, or eat a grape. Unsolicited.
I’ve kept every “afternoon-pick-me-up” wrapper, just in case.

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“Afternoon-pick-me-up” Archive

Mental progress can’t be monitored in the same way. There is nothing to hold, nothing to form a trend with. Yet perhaps there are tracks heading in the right direction, if we look hard enough.
Perhaps this: not always rushing to the end of a meal to meet Anorexia’s deadline, or drawing it out to waste the day away.
See here, these are my arms. It’s sweaty at work today (body heat is a thing now), so I have rolled up my sleeves. I am waiting for someone to say something. Look. My arms embrace silence.
And here, I’m putting on make-up. No, not trivialising these aged eyes, simply enhancing them a little.
My skin looks clear, you say? Well I would hope so. I’m using a very expensive scrub. It has almond extract in it. I know, I know there are no calories in it.
And no, I’m not wearing tracksuit pants today. They have a curfew: they aren’t allowed out until after a shower.
I could have told you all this had you called my mobile phone: I might have answered.
Oh yes, perhaps this. I’m weighing up whether or not to drop in on my friend’s birthday reception on Saturday. Only for half an hour or so, would that be ok?
Won’t we be seen? Perhaps.
Or worse: What if they don’t see me?

When Ellie awakes, she coughs up memories. Embryonic emotions are thrust upon me prematurely, screaming for me to cope with them. Refeeding myself rips the scabs off wounds, and now I struggle to stem the steady flow of unwanted, unplanned feeling.
I have a bruise on my forehead.
Marbled moss, mustard, burgundy. The crater left by black and blue emotion. I had to react. Purple flowers grow out of burst blood vessels. The bruise smarts when people’s eyes graze over it. They unstick themselves from my face, unsure where to look. Nobody could meet my eye anymore. These emotions were never mine. Ellie doesn’t let Anorexia starve feelings out, so they are neglected. Nobody will handle or accept responsibility for them. When they grow rancid, they will release themselves.
It was such a relief.
And now, I have a bruise on my forehead.

It’s true what they don’t say about recovering from a mental illness. It is a journey, a psychedelic trip across precarious successes before coming down, hard. Regret is always there to pick you up, and reprimand you for loosing so much control.

I can feel restoration coming, slowly. Change snaked at a gradual gradient over an axis of the last year. It held still occasionally so Anonymous would let her guard down.
Anonymous knows physical restoration could jump on her at any point. She feels the trembling ground scatter noise across my weight chart. +0.2kg turns the volume up to an angry buzz. Anonymous covers her eyes, and my mouth. -0.2kg. There. Much better.
The line of best fit was kept snug, so my leggings stayed baggy. Fluctuations rose and fell in a stagnant dream. To wake Ellie from this nightmare, I had to turn up the noise. Even if only a little.

My mental illness has made a spectacle of itself. Recovery makes me blush because it humiliates Anonymous. It is embarrassing.
I dread the day when the numbers make “Anorexia” redundant. Anonymous needs her identity to be validated. If my body is ripped from her grip, she will have nothing to defend me with.
Earlier, I mentioned my leggings. Here’s the thing about those leggings. My XS leggings no longer pull a curtain over sharp boney corners. No, they cling to my thighs for dear life. They are only baggy at the crotch, and only ripple in a breeze. Can you hear her cry of shame?
Restoring weight is a blinding display of strength. She won’t let me face it. Anorexia can’t bear to witness my weakness degenerate. It would destroy her.
That is why change has to move slowly. Any sudden movements would make it prey.

Progress tastes better than it looks, and it is worth chewing over. Deciding to include a photo in this blog post traps me in a restrictive frame of mind. A single snapshot cannot capture progress, it is a moving and breathing target. It has feelings. And yet, Ellie wishes to use this picture as proof.

comparison
13.06.16 v. 13.06.17

I admit it. Ellie, you have come this far. You are ordering those numbers: +7kg; BMI 15.3; bpm 52. I dare you to turn back now.
My doctors have mapped out a route through unchartered territory: I still have a long way to go. I have barely restored half of my weight lost to Anorexia. I am still chasing that healthy horror. Perhaps when I catch up with it, it will scare away the ECG machines, and the blood tests, the needles.
Change hasn’t coloured over the lines of Anorexia’s rules, and the pale tinges complement my routine. But they are getting stronger, bolder. Life is starting to glow with progress.

 

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What a colourful start (to my day) !

“Recovery” is an unfinished story, without a beginning, a middle or an end, but with plenty of twists. This is my story, thank you for helping me get through my first year in recovery. Back then, I didn’t think I’d make it to the end of the week.

To my diagnosis: Happy Birthday. Anonymous, may you surrender many happy returns.

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Choosing recovery: