(Disclaimer: I just wanted to use that title. There is nothing remotely mediocre or badly written about this body. Not a boring kg in all 50 of them. I’ve worked hard for this shit.)
The 50th May 2018. A day swallowed by history, and devoured by recovery. For it is as we hurl ourselves headlong into summer, on the cusp of all things bright and beautiful, that Ellie performed some sort of miracle.
I’ve made it to 50kg.
Two years, 11kg and several tons of avocados has washed us up here. Tidal tears and volcanic tantrums. I’ve moved mountains: and piled them on. Dragging all this weight up an axis towards a horizon that has finally melted beneath my feet.
The numbers flashed once, twice, then fixed me with their unblinking infra-red eyes. 50kg glared down at itself, and Ellie squealed.
Surprise raised my mood up to dizzying heights for a moment: up there where the air is clear, and anorexia struggles to take breath. As I stood there on the scales, basking in my nurse’s applause, I let Ellie gabble on and on at what this might mean. She filled my head with her future, the one she designs at every mealtime. The one she has haphazardly been attempting to unearth under layers of thick and sticky anonymity.
It was days before I reeled her in, back into this body. Only then did I calculate my BMI, something I find myself doing immediately after any fluctuation in my weight. Anonymous wanted to see how far she had let me wander towards the line between “underweight”, and “anorexic”. 16.6 is a few kilos too far to just do nothing. It must mean something.
Unlike anorexia, Ellie can communicate with weight gain. She can decipher an accurate meaning of it. Yes Ellie, at this moment, I understand. This means we’re trying to get better. This means things will be better.
I clambered off, then got stage fright. That’s when anonymous caught me. This means we’re getting better. Now what would that mean?
I had set short-term rewards for weight deadlines to tempt myself and Anonymous into surrendering to Ellie’s hunger. My reward for this one was exercise: that much was decided on the day I was diagnosed. At 50kg, I could exercise again, so long as the calories were provided for. As I type, every 50 kilos of myself is quivering. I’ve plans for exercise, but have already let anorexia starve me off sharing them with anyone. She has forced words of retribution and denial on my parent’s tongues before they’ve even had a chance to listen for themselves. My body has tuned in to the fear: that I have come so far, chasing a lie. That it is all some nasty trick to make me fat or force me into inactivity. Hang on, let me weigh that up: yes, that feels anorexic. But it also feels real. I want to go to the gym tomorrow, but couldn’t cope with the guilt of doing it behind my parents’ backs. My choices are made shadows when they’re turned the other way. I can’t work out how to bring up my body without dredging up fear with it.
Yes, I can hear these anonymous words: the worst thing is that I’m still listening. I’m heavy enough to recognise her, but too light to throw her off, for now.
There is much work to be done.
I have walked miles to reach this mile st.
This is the highest point my weight has reached in recovery. It has finally starting to pop above the hazy stagnation it had been suppressed under for so long.
I wish I could say that it was Ellie: all Ellie. I wish I could say she was enough for me to pull kilos of myself together, just for her. It wasn’t, not entirely anyway. It is the fruit of the future dangling just out of my reach. If all things good hadn’t conspired to laden the branches so, it would never have leaned in close enough for me to smell it. In Spring’s twilight, it smells more fragrant than all the summer blooms. We are on the cusp of something good, some summery shred of possibility. Thank heavens my parents are here to point it out, everyday.
50kg was set in st as a goal weight the day I as diagnosed. It is a historically significant weight: it is the weight that gave anorexia it’s name, though I never uttered it until I was sure. At 50kg, people noticed Anonymous; they pointed her out in the street and called her anorexic.
50kg was the weight I was pulled out of my university Women’s VIII, weeks before regatta season. It was the first time a flashback felt boring, dull, muted. The first time the pain finally numbed.
At 50kg, I realised I was in a relationship with anorexia, and had been for a very long time.
That was then. 50kg feels different now, somehow. As if something has started to pick at it’s bones.
The time was right months ago. This over-ripe fruit is ready to be picked, but I have to prove I can do it alone. Independence itself is one of the plump, juicy temptations “getting better” has to offer. Sts and all.
The stench does get heavy. It can leer so close that Anonymous becomes afraid of being smothered by it. She will see me bite into it, and disciover it is rotten to the core. She’ll have me choke on it’s imperfect skin, and grow fat and lazy on all the sweet calories it contains.
The problem is, Ellie is still starving. She is hungry to try that sun-pecked fruit, almost excited. Recovery would mean so much if it spoke with a satisfied tongue.
To grow the good things: friends, family, independance, even happiness: I force myself to wake up next to Ellie every morning. She points up at my future, chides me along to get up and try.
I’m strong enough to grab the low hanging fruit most days now: most days, I fulfil my swollen, fattening, weight-gaining meal plan. On the good days, it tastes good.
Recovery has been feeding me small rewards for reaching 50kg without my even noticing. Occasionally letting go the branches of my family that I weigh down so has been delicious. The guilt of placing so much of myself on my parent’s shoulders is squeezed out when I managed to attend to clinics all by myself. I did the car journey and everything. Cruising along to Coldplay felt too nice to be naughty.
The ability to occasionally divert Anxiety away from an attack has meant the days feel lighter. They don’t hurt so much, and pass through with minimal bruising. Blocking Anxiety as it raises itself, ready to pounce, weakens anonymous but strengths Ellie’s cause. If I can only get stronger, surely, Anxiety will be easier to control, even quarantine? My senses are 11 kilos sharper, my mind 11 kilos less empty.
Even challenges are being offered up to Ellie as rewards. A plateful of independence is on my summer menu. I plan to go away for a few weeks, live alone and unsupervised, and work at a summer school. Be a ghost to my former self, who was so good at her job. This particular fruit is, admittedly, shrouded by a thick skin. Sharp spines that threaten it’s failure only serve to back me further than Ellie’s arms. My biggest worry is not having the energy to do my job. One school day at the moment is enough to send me into a sleepy trance. To break through this worry and reach sweet success, I have to eat.
Anxiety is cancerous. It spreads and multiplies, swells something small into a monstrosity. It reached 50kg as soon as surprise died on the scales.
Anonymous has been rattled. She didn’t see 50 coming, not really. It crept up on her and has hijacked her distrust in my own strength. I must have been wearing 50kg without even realising it: my clothes hugged me comfortably, and I still experienced episodes of dizzying hunger highs. Short, yes, but still at exactly the same times. Like clockwork telling time to wait.
Now I have locked eyes with those two red numbers on the scales, I’ve noticed. 50kilos watches my back as lumber along the street, my heavy footsteps clamouring in my ears. Recovery has dilated on my thighs and shrunk my jeans. Bloating drowns satiety into a sinister hum, lost to groaning indulgence.
This is an easy target for Anxiety. In some ways, it is quite nice to have it attack something close to me – on me. Something easily solved should the pain get too much, and easier to manage than the irrationality of another person.
The fruits of my labour make me sick.
Anonymous convinced me I’d be immune to those 11 kilos, that they’d never get near me. Now it is upon me and Ellie yearns for more, the only way I can manage the symptom of recovery is to monitor it closely. See what happens when things start to get better, see how I’ll cope.
Recovery, I understand you believe it is worth all of this.
Don’t show me the incoming hoard of angry thoughts, feelings and memories. It will put me off my supper. You mean well by giving life back to me, but slowly please. It is just too much.
Yoga drip feeds me life, as does my family and my plans. Life is swelling up. I can even turn it on its’ head, and precariously balance the risk of attempting an arm balance. This feels good, I just wish I felt more confident wearing it than I do wearing anorexia. Some things just take getting used to, even the taste of success. It leaves a bitter after taste, but Ellie seems determined to try it.
She think we’ll enjoy it.
Reaching 50kg has been gruelling. But as it turns out, I always had it in me. Now I have it on me too.
I’ve recovered 11 kg and have more to go. I’m not out of the woods yet, but at least I now know I am definitely on track. The same fabled track walked thousands of time by thousands of other anorexics, their families, their doctors. Come, heave your weight up here. It will lead us out. Soon, you’ll see the view.
Recovery is happening. A natural disaster shakes the ground beneath my feet, closes gaps and highlights cracks. The 50th of May is just another day in recovery: another day swallowed by history.
A line of ulcers tell the tale of my weekend away. As the train neared the coast and the day melted on the streets of Brighton, I bit my lip. Every word in my head throbbed and ruptured, one swollen worry after another.
Every ulcer bulged over an anorexic boundary. Each one a scar from a battle raging behind my blinking eyeballs.
For just one night, she wanted to step out of Control. Ou of the never ending cycle of food, school, food, bed; out of the four walls of this house that press my empty inbox against my face. Out of character and out of excuses, Ellie decided we needed to go away, and get out of Control.
Brighton was a realistic target. An eclectic seaside town would doubtless be full of people to watch, meaning I would be unlikely to get bored and turn on myself for entertainment. Brighton is close by: only an hour or so on the train. Anonymous can handle trains, she can stand trains, and on them.
I wanted to examine myself and my progress under a harsher light. There would be no home comforts to hide behind, no easy escape from any triggers.
The point of this trip was sharp and threatening. A serrated edge to dissect just how much of myself could cope in difficult conditions.
I named the main 3 Brighton ulcers: Food, Comfort, and Komedia.
These worries oozed threateningly, slipping around on thick layers of sticky anorexic panic.
There are smaller tears on my lips surrounding each ulcer, like little moons orbiting three central problems. They’re known as “Inactivity”; “Timing”; “People”.
The most grisly worry about going away was, of course, Food. The F word.
I could feel this ulcer forming from the moment I recklessly hit “confirm” on the National Rail website all those weeks ago. I wanted my meals planned as early as my rail ticket.
The very thought of eating out not just once, not twice, but four times in 48 hours was simply ridiculous. My anorexic eyes stung each time I looked to the future, and saw those meals coming. It was grotesque, unthinkable. Lost too far beyond the borders of Control.
Despite trawling websites and menus from the safety of my bedroom, the food in Brighton remained elusive. I got on a train to meet a stranger on my plate.
Brighton is an eclectic pocket of the UK.
Vibrant vegetarian cafes; a grid of lanes fallen under a vegan siege; locally produced platters of only the finest and freshest foods. There were so many areas of opportunity to try new things, way out there: out of Control.
Anonymous saw the food for what it was. At least, she nestled into the gaping holes next to each item, and filled it with her own list of ingredients and nutrient information. She feels around on the inside, still entirely in Control.
In my head, the calorie inflation rate rockets the further from home I go.
A tablespoon of homemade hummus costs fewer calories than a dollop of alien hummus.
An exact tablespoon of homemade hummus costs less anxiety than someone else dumping liberal amounts on my plate.
Homemade hummus is stiff and lumpy, which is characteristic of it’s sparing olive oil content. The hummus out there, out of Control, looks like velvet. A cloud of soft spread wobbling slightly at the touch, skin spotless and smooth. This hummus would be heathen. One can almost see too much tahini. The scent of garlic ripens and permeates with obvious additives.
I tread carefully around food when it has been prepared without anorexic supervision. Avoidance has simply been a way of delaying the inevitable, which is what I was faced with in Brighton. Eventually, I was always going to cross that line, and taste forbidden hummus.
I arrived and cursed Instagram for planting false expectations in my head.
“Vegetarian food” was ripping off the weight loss trade and tipping over the edge of indulgence. Slabs of gooey gluten-free cake, tottering towers of coconut ice cream, grains glazed in thick dressings and quivering mounds of hummus. Beads of chickpeas in salads; greens smothered under a thick tahini layer; thick wedges of bread with lashings of avocado; seed-studs like bullet holes.
It seemed each deli was attempting to outdo the next with their plant based platters. Anonymous was wrong to assume they’d be in the business targeting weight loss markets.
The servers themselves floated behind the counters, piling generous portions onto people’s plates. A bit of this and a bit of that. Their eyes were glazed over, dilated.
Nowhere was safe.
Even a humble bowl of soup could not be had without a twirl of cream or fistful of nuts. Everything was being served on huge plates, tantamount to small cauldrons. This was dangerous territory for an anorexic. Unnecessary calories grew like a tumour on every meal.
I had a choice: risk being snared by calories, or almost certainly passing out in a strange city. It is with pride that I tell you Ellie’s voice shouted louder, and Anonymous was resolved to try and eat something.
So it was that I haunted the North Lanes for over two hours, chewing over what I could eat.
My ulcer throbbed for every second wasted: I was running out of time. Lunchtime would soon be over.
I peered into every eatery in Brighton, scrutinising the menu and adding up the calories. I occasionally entered, and fascinated over other people’s plates. Tongues twisted flat breads into dough sculptures. The food was unreal, ridiculous. One deli actually let me stand around the counter, and watch them assemble a Buddha Bowl.
Before my eyes something beautiful was born.
A layer of crunch leaves, shredded beetroot, juicy plump tomatoes. Then grains rained down in clumps, glued together by a thick dressing. A scoop of dhal cushioned the salsa and stopped the juices bleeding into the hummus. It’s velveteen layer bristled with a final handful of herbs.
Anonymous watched apprehensively. There was so much food for so small a meal. I backed out of the door.
By now, Anxiety was beginning to snap at my heels. The familiar panic that I wasn’t going to get anything to eat started to set in. The chase was on, and Ellie ran back to that deli. It was their kindness that saved me, I think.
Ellie ordered a Buddha Bowl and Anonymous ordered adjustments: leave off that, only a tiny bit of this. No, no dressing thank you.
She clawed lunchtime back under her control and installed me in a window seat.
I watched the world go by through the condensation. Such a busy world going so far, so fast. How difficult it is to keep up.
When my first meal out in Brighton was finally set down before me, Ellie was gagging for it. Even Anonymous can’t talk with her mouth full of anticipation. I picked up my fork – then dropped it in horror.
It was huge. The long prongs rang as it fell with a clatter, and it bared it’s enormous fangs in a metallic grimace.
At home, I eat with small cutlery. I only eat with small cutlery, because Anonymous can only take small bites. It’s how she controls how much I eat. On what planet can one shovel food into their mouth with such a contraption as this? How does it even fit between one’s lips?
I looked around for a teaspoon, but none could be found. Tentatively, Ellie picked up her fork and plunged it into the quinoa. Small bubbles clung to the prongs, then settled on my ulcer. That was my first anxious bite.
Ellie worked her way around the plate, small servings belittled by this giant fork. It seems I swallowed my dignity along with my food: moments after finishing the last mouthful, I began lapping up the dressing with my finger. Oily skid marks smeared my smile, and residue was all over my ulcers. It was delicious.
I chewed over my first food ulcer long after lunch had finished. I was haunted by that giant, quivering dollop of hummus.
Even examining the photographs I had taken didn’t offer any answer to that one, biting question: how many calories was it worth?
I couldn’t shake this feeling that I had done something terrible, something unthinkable. Something so out of character, and out of Control.
My next meal would be important: it would dictate how much energy I’d have to get through the rest of the night. It would assure Ellie that this gamble was still a good idea.
I cannot remember what I did to pass the time between lunch and supper. I had to redo the whole thing the next morning, after the climax of breakfast. My mind was in my mouth, chewing over where my next meal would come from.
The ulcer began to swell under time pressure. I grappled with supper and reused my lunch plan the next day.
I managed my food. I ate my food. In some respects, it was an interesting experiment that showed eating out alone is far less stress-inducing than eating out with other people. On my own, I’m only responsible for how I feel.
On their own, each meal would have been an average challenge. Collectively, they were enormous.
The uncertainty lasted 36 hours, and that is an enormous mouthful of time for Anxiety to swallow.
Whilst calories infected one ulcer, cleanliness did the next.
The longer I lingered out of my house, the more dirt gathered together, weighing me down. It was one aspect of going away I hadn’t considered, and it was a shock to discover how much I struggled with feeling dirty. Simply because the unfamiliar is filthy.
This ulcer is rancid.
Sweat, skin, cheap shots, sex, second-hand air. The salty sea air seasoned the fug of hangovers, urine, and fried food. This seaside party town was sweating under the strain of stag dos and cigarettes. The pavements wept gum and greasy wrappers, tears of beer bleeding into the gutter. There was no air to dry out the damp. Instead, it became a moist blanket thrown over the layers of other people.
I inhaled other people. Anonymous kept catching whiffs of people: fat, drunk, high. She was utterly terrified, knowing her anxiety did not make her immune to catching the calories rising off another person’s plate.
Anonymous’ existence is sterile, carefully executed in clean, calm Surrey. My environment is a sanctuary to which I retreat to avoid any anxiety triggers, like drugs and alcohol.
Away from home, I was suddenly cut off from the support network my parents give me. I was alone, drowning in this sordid world.
Everything in Brighton had been touched.
A million grubby fingers had held that handrail, this fork, sat in that chair and pressed that button. Anonymous felt as though Ellie was forcing me into another person’s shoes, squeezing me into another person’s habits by exposing me to them at close range.
Every chair was weary from supporting too many people. I could catch other people simply by breathing the same air as them, I knew it.
A single fingerprint on a mirror flashed a thousand possible people I might turn into, if I wasn’t more careful.
Anxiety settled on my skin in a layer of sweat. Dust and dirt mingled into a grimy layer. The shower at the youth hostel only added to it. The bathroom was dripping in other people’s dirt, humid and heavy. I smelt drugs in the air and felt them burrow into my pores. Here in my head, anorexia felt a shift in my metabolism.
I did what I could to ward off anxiety with a small bottle of hand sanitiser, some wet wipes, and distraction. The ease with which other people passed in and out of public loos was fascinating to watch.
This was a culture grown out of Control. It flourished in the warm climes of friendship and relationships.
Perhaps that is what I was missing, perhaps company was integral to breaking a fear of other people.
Anonymous was careful not to touch anything, lest she catch any calories, or any fattening habits.
She was cheered by the fact I had to squat each time I used the bathroom (which is quite frequent during weight restoration). The extra seconds of exercise burned my thighs with anorexic satisfaction. It was such a relief to finally be able to nestle my bottom on the friendly seat at home.
Going away was only the mouth of the rabbit hole: the youth hostel I had booked into would be the real test of Anonymous tolerance.
I gaped when I entered the dorm. Not sure what, or who, to make of it.
A pair of flip flops, a hairdryer, a couple of crumpled Topshop bags. An empty Starbucks cup with no name scrawled on it’s side. A wet towel melted into the carpet. A warning sign of 5 unmade bunks, with their duvets twisted into grotesque polyester sculptures.
All but one mattress was claimed by a stranger.
I locked my bag in the empty cubby hole and inspected the bathroom. Youth Hostels are functional and hospitable, just not entirely to anorexia’s taste.
The empty beds were the most biting issue. The absence of their hosts haunted my imagination, and filled it with bogeymen.
I cowered behind Margret Atwood, hiding from the drunken drawls creeping through the window. The first emerged shortly before midnight, a chatty Texan who could drown out the noise from the nightclub next door.
Every spike of ecstasy from outside stabbed ice into the pit of my stomach, and I try not to remember. Revulsion rises like bile with the roar of merriment.
Later that night, when I was cocooned in recycled sheets and feigning sleep, I heard the other roommates prowl into the room, one by one.
They silently diffused into bed in the dark, not even turning on their reading lights. They shut the window on the drunken night outside, and settled into easy sleep.
Out of the fug, I salvaged pockets of sleep: 25 mins here and there. A bit of this and a bit of that.
At 3am, the bunk above creaked threateningly as my cumbersome bunk buddy ascended the ladder. Anxiety gnawed at me to get out of there sharpish: the bed would surely collapse, and I would be crushed. I’m still not sure why I stayed.
Anorexia tried to spring me from my bunk too. As the slept, my dorm mates became musical. Their bodily functions syncronised and the air was thick with with harmonised farts, burps, barfs. A cloud of skin, sweat and food descended. One had clearly had a liquid dinner, and there was the definite stench of cheesy chips. The signature scent of student halls, I remember that one well. Airbourne calories stalked me in my slumber, and backed my nose and mouth behind my hand. I was too afraid to move, just in case the fat gobules floating in the air would rush towards me and pounce.
Instead, I wrapped myself in these slutty sheets, like the hundreds of other guests thrust upon this bed before me.
The night shed it’s slippery skin slowly, but soon it was morning. I awoke with relief, and a mouth full of ulcers.
I crept around my right to get up, and tiptoed out of the room. Ellie pondered on this behaviour over breakfast. The way I melted into the wall, the way I was careful not to be spotted, lest my presence stagnate my dorm mates’ fluid fun. The thought that I could even have been responsible for it in the first place.
Do not pity me. Anorexia is not a sympathetic character, and Ellie did this to herself. She took control and hurled me out of it. This is a tale warranting not pity, but pride.
It is with pride I present to you the final Brighton ulcer: Komedia. A concentration of triggers bulging before anxiety. Let’s lance the boil.
By 5:30pm on Saturday, I was crawling up Regent street. The sun was finally settling down onto the cloudy skyline, and the first part of my journey was nearly over. Ahead of me was a long lonely night. The hours were empty aside from the inevitable scarpering of sleep at the slightest noise. And there would be noise: the air was hotting up to receive the Saturday night fever.
Nightlife has two strains.
The first can induce pleasure among those susceptible to it, the other brings anxiety. The dark hours are dampened by sweat and encourage the growth of alarming behaviour. Noise seeps through the streets like mould. The spores were already being released: pubs spilled out onto the streets, hairspray gassed the hostel corridors, and anticipation condensed against my eyes.
By 5:30pm, I still had no plan how to navigate through the next few hours out there, away from Control.
All the anorexic-tolerant delis would shut at 6: an hour before suppertime, and half an hour from now.
Triggers were beginning to cat-call over another foaming pint. The night beckoned time to a slow shuffle. It was going to be a long night if I didn’t come up with some means of distraction from the world around me, and within me. I needed somewhere to hide for the next few hours. I also needed food; something to starve off anxiety, but also feed that part of myself that had dragged me here in the first place.
Right on cue, Ellie spotted a sign in the street. One thing led to another, and I drew up a plan.
By 6, I was no longer clutching at straws, but a ticket to a stand up comedy night, and a salad box bought just before closing time. Ellie chewed on her lentils, leaves and ulcers, listening to my rules crack between her teeth.
A comedy night, on a Saturday night, after dark, in Brighton. You’re joking, right?
Well, we’re down this crazy rabbit hole now, Ellie. We’re eating supper far too early and are out far too late. How much more can you take? Let’s lance this boil, and see what happens. Let’s watch your rancid fears splatter out of Control.
I installed myself in the furthest booth from the stage. It was a dark corner, but was spared having to endure a long night next to a couple doing a risqué performance of their own a few tables away. From here I could make a quick escape through the fire exit, but also watch other people’s sticky nights unfold and take flight, beer in hand.
Anonymous flinched each time she glimpsed my watch. It was so late to be out alone.
I felt myself biting on a smaller ulcer, the one formed when I realised how much I missed being home.
Anonymous wasted no time in telling Ellie she could be curled up with her dog at this time. She needed have said anything; Ellie was thinking it too. Clubs were never really her scene.
Now, I realise it wasn’t home I was missing as such – it was me. A home for my self.
The air was heavy, rubbing up and into my pores.
Alcohol spiked the air. Steely, sugary sickness rose into my nostrils as the gaffs kept coming. The lights flashed and microphones boomed. Airborne calories pulsed with the stereos. It was an assault that I am honestly shocked to have survived.
There were too many triggers for Anxiety to grapple with at once. My mind simply couldn’t spend too much time chewing on one before the next was rammed down her throat. I struggled to swallow the scene before me.
At 9pm, we retreated. I wormed m way out onto the street, and ran back to the hostel. Neon lights and car horns lead me back to the main road without me even having to glance at my map, I just trusted the world around me to help.
I expected Anxiety to stalk me from the dark alleys, but there were just too many people. Too many lights.
I haven’t been out of the house so late for a very long time, of course I felt exposed.
I slumped back in my chair. As I spat the final mouthfuls of my tale out into the cool, unmoving hospital air, my nurse smiled.
“I’m proud of you,” she said. The words felt nice. I repeated it in my head, over and over. I’m proud of you.
“You’ve got so much potential, Ellie.”
Yeah, I guess I have. Maybe I should start to believe it.
Brighton exposed Anxiety to the world Anorexia tries to hide me from. It was interesting to watch it fend for itself out there, out of Control. In some respects, it was easier to control than it is at home. At home it has various lairs in which it wallows: my cutlery, my quiet. Me, me, me. Away, Anxiety just didn’t know what to settle on. There was so much for it to feast on, it became sick, but dragged me up to dizzying heights in alarm.
I was very anxious in Brighton.
I was frightened of the food, and alarmed by the air assaults of smells and sounds. The clamour of lives clashing in the streets broke one moment and passed it on to the next. Time was told by anticipation for what trigger would arrive next.
It was a struggle just to escape my own head, but there were pockets of time when my mind was free to wander, and follow Brighton’s enticing features.
Yes, it was uncomfortable.
The electric thrill of not knowing what was going to happen next buzzed in my bloodstream. It burned like salt rubbing into a wound, an ulcer perhaps.
Only by pushing myself, did I realise I still had the capacity to cope, and to enjoy in spite of endurance. I need not be taught how to fend for myself, merely revise it.
In Brighton, I discovered the world’s best hummus, my sense of humour, and confidence.
This trip was worth the calories. It has taken a while so come down from the high, but I can look back and stroke the ulcers fondly with my tongue.
I will take the Bright on. May it bleed into the next few weeks.
I placed my spoon and fork together, and held onto the silence. The bowl, a crater smeared with the residue of saliva, was empty.
I had scraped the final morsels into my mouth with relish, savouring every last lick:
Almonds had shattered into a cloud of quinoa. Plump olives and pulpy raisins had swollen under the smoke of hummus. Bouquets of broccoli were flecked with shreds of chilli and buttery cashews. The mousse of sweet potato had sponged the lining of my mouth with a spicy lathering, and glazed it in a bittersweet dressing. The marbled colour of my salad bowl snuggled, swirled and separated. Green grew creamy, and the rust of tomato ripened under the sun of a lemony stain. Steam curled its fingers up into my nose, and the aroma of sweet anticipation suffocated Anonymous for a moment. I could only hear clusters of chickpeas crumble between my teeth, and a floret rasp as my tongue caressed it from my fork.
Electrified, the firing of thoughts had ceased.
Pleasure pulled at my cheeks and made me smile: I couldn’t help it. It was just so yummy.
Smudged and smeared, the face reflected back at me from my spoon stared at Anonymous and Ellie. It’s eyes were curious, and challenged one of them to break the silence. “So,” they seemed to ask, “What have we learned today?”
Reflecting on a meal after I’ve eaten it allows me to gather my thoughts together, and order them in a way so that the recovery battle can begin again with renewed vigour. Writing my way out of my eating disorder has taken on many guises: it is an exercise that forces me to communicate with each voice as it prattles in harmony with my cutlery.
This particular moment of recuperation happened just last week, when I took myself to London. The Mae Deli has become an oasis: it is the only place I trust myself to eat in. It is the only place that doesn’t serve threat, in all it’s imagined glory.
I sat beside my empty plate, surrounded by the chatter of other diners. Ellie nodded with pride as she nursed the wounds inflicted by Anxiety during the long journey leading to that first bite. Anorexia’s visions of a certain future wobbles, and neutralises as it dissolves into the present. In the peace of my own solitude, I asked myself: “So, what have you learned today?”
I had walked through the door, intruding on that serene scene of well nourished respect. My eyes darted around the room. I need a table now. Anonymous, high on adrenaline and panic, had pursued me across the city convincing me there wouldn’t be space. There wouldn’t be space, and therefore I wouldn’t eat. I need to eat now, or I won’t. I won’t.
Oh look, you can sit here. Here, next to the flowers.
I looked into my empty bowl, and saw questions swirling in the dregs. What would have happened if you had to wait? Was your metabolism really going to trick you into ballooning seconds after your deadline?
I want to call on Ellie to question her claim of control. Anonymous is in control of when I eat.
– until someone sits at the last table.
The scoop of quinoa had bulged in the ladle, leering at me as it tumbled with muffled thunder into the bowl. It looked so big. I realised I hadn’t noted from which corner of the dish it had been conjured from. Perhaps it had been scraped from the depths of that pot, from the abyss where heavy bulbs of oily dressing had sunk? I hadn’t counted the chunks of sweet potato as they were nudged into place. The numbers were Anomalies: an unknown jumble of carbs and calories. They couldn’t be compared and contrasted with the data I consumed every other day. I couldn’t do the maths: have I earned this? What will the result be?
Those questions weren’t answered that day. Whilst they didn’t sour the enjoyment on my tongue, they did chase me around Hyde Park for the rest of the afternoon. Earn those calories.
Every mouthful was peppered with a question: what does this mean?
The will to try with this recovery battle hangs in the balance each day with how well Ellie and Anonymous can argue.
I swing from one conflict to the next, trying to balance out each argument and identify whose voice it belongs to. The most recent was the Great Grape Grievance: Surely, if I ate one grape now that’s greedy? I had lunch an hour ago, I don’t need it. How would it look in my food diary? A whole extra line, how greedy. How indulgent.
Yes, but how nice it would be.
(I didn’t eat the grape. I’m still trying to work out what that extra grape would say about me.)
Reflection allows me the freedom to engage with my food anxieties after they have climaxed.
I had a discussion with Anxiety in the Mae Deli. I asked her why she was afraid of breaching Anonymous’ rules. Thus began her tale:
Anxiety claims to have travelled to a land called the Future, where she met a monster. That monster was named Weight Gain. Trembling with fear, she retold me a tale that will leave her worthless and alone. Ellie wanted to know what made this demon so monstrous. She began to describe an independent creature with a life completely out of it’s control, with nobody to help it. Horns and fangs had grown from indulging on the forbidden fruit of food and freedom.
Anorexia has helped me keep this beast at bay thus far. Anonymous will stop me from being gobbled up.
Looking into my spoon, I can see through Anonymous’ deceptive tale. She isn’t afraid of Weight Gain, she is afraid of what it stands for. She is frightened by it’s power to control how other people treat me, long after they’ve forgotten that weight doesn’t fill the hole that made me starve out Ellie. She is frightened by how Ellie might treat me.
What would it mean?
Recovery needs to grow a hand for me to hold, because I am hanging in the balance of each bite, each day. My hopes of returning to university in September are slipping between my sweating palms, away into a static space balancing on the scales. It would mean a lot to Ellie if she could cope with going back, it really would. At the moment, that portion size looks a bit too much to ask for.
I savour those seconds of silence after a bite. Enjoyment doesn’t sour in my mouth, it lingers. An animal in me stirs: I am meant to eat. I deserve to eat. Somewhere, something swings into balance, and I can smile. These are precious moments, and they give me hope.
An aftertaste: Months before my diagnosis and a year ago today, I had my first meeting with my lovely nutritionist J. She would later save my life with a glass of milk, and give me the confidence to try: try something new, ask those questions, take that challenge. A year a ago today, I presented her with a list of foods I would not touch. I found that list in my diary, and Ellie is proud to say that she is able to cross most of them out. A precious moment, and it gives me hope.
My parents witness Anorexia assaulting their daughter.
Anonymous doesn’t have to hide at home.
The four walls of my house have watched her evolution since recovery started: now, she wears red.
Triggers have sharp, serrated edges.
Blinking in breathless anticipation, Anonymous courts Paranoia across a carpet of eggshells. The air is concentrated by the breath of Anxiety, who clasps the clock hands as they creep round and round. We wait to hear a crunch slice through the silence.
There is a crackle underfoot, and threat infects the rotting wound. Anonymous raises her head.
Red with rabid anger: I am a monster. I am made a gorgon, petrified by a phantom threat. So I fly, and fight with rupturing, rushing rage. Don’t lose control.
Insults scorch my tongue with acidic satisfaction, and threats taste sweet on Anonymous’ tongue: “I should leave. I shouldn’t be here, look at me. Look at what I’m doing.”
“I was happier when I was starving.”
“It would be easier if I was dead.”
I work in a restaurant. Fat oozed into the air as a vapour, and it stalked me home. I saw it.
Trapped behind the safety of my front door, I release my terror.
I began to claw at my skin, tearing my work uniform from my convulsing, grotesque limbs. My skin was swollen from scrubbing my hands too hard, and it crawled under the stench of that sweat-saturated collar.
This coating of itchy sticky greasy air was melting calories into my pores. They were heaving, suffocating. Airborne food haunted my lungs. My nostrils were raw from huffing and puffing and blowing the calories out. My mouth was dry: spit.
Get away from me, get it away from me.
The fight flew high. I am still violated by that threat: that thought of being tricked by the air I was breathing.
My parents stood by, and were there until the exorcism was over.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”
“Don’t apologise for Anonymous Ellie.”
I looked at my measuring jug. Still sweating from it’s post-wash up wipe down, it sat on the draining board. Used.
I looked at Dad, brandishing the fairy liquid.
I blinked again. I look at Dad, then the brush, then the jug.
Then to Dad, back to the jug.
Dad, what have you done?
I’m stuck up here, burping and hiccuping from all that air I swallowed.
“We’ve noticed an increase in Anorexic behaviours recently, Ellie. We’ve been walking on eggshells.”
Anxiety laughs, and Anonymous rubs her hands. What can we tempt you with today, Ellie? Let’s cut off that crust. You don’t need that much milk. You don’t deserve them. Let me drive them away.
I am constantly trying to excuse Anonymous for being the houseguest from hell.
Babbling outbursts stall the war: if I can explain why – why I won’t try that raw cookie; why you can’t serve my rice Mum; why I don’t like that tin being on my fridge shelf – surely, it could be forgiven.
Exaggeration hides ignorance. Like a terrier I snap at the heels of a threatening shadow, one that only I can see through my watering eyes. I over-explain to excuse, and to hide: hide the fact that I am being tempted by the devil.
Mum and Dad tell Anonymous to leave me alone. Words eat her.
Anonymous controls people.
The more she scares them, the further away they stay, and the longer she can fester. She and my parents don’t get on, because no matter how hard she tries, they will not leave her alone. Her defence has been compromised by their acceptance, and refusal to let go of their daughter who is kicking and screaming to be released. Ellie misses them.
I don’t deserve my parents, because I am Anonymous.
I am grateful that they look at me, and see Ellie.
I am humbled by their conviction that I will beat Anorexia, even if taking my time is greedy.
They are my reserves: all I have to offer in this fight that is getting so very exhausting.
“I can’t do it, I can’t.”
“Actually, Ellie, you can.”
I love them so, so much. If I loose them, Ellie will not resist Anorexia. Recovery would be a myth.
That is why Anonymous chooses them. They are her easy targets: so close, so precious, and so threatening.
Mummy and Daddy. Please, don’t hurt my Mummy and Daddy.
We will not let Anonymous consume us.
We feed each other words so she cannot starve us of recovery, hope and happiness.
Honesty is a staple, garnished with frequency. I always over-season it with emotion, desperate for them to know, to understand.
There are some things that they may never understand, and that’s ok.
Dad won’t read this blog: and I am thankful. There are some things I don’t want my Daddy to know.
It is important that space is allowed to reflect on the words we have exchanged. Dad retires to the study, Mum to her crossword.
They have carer’s meetings at my clinic, to discuss Anorexia.
She sits with us: another mouth to feed, another mouth to argue with.
Another pair of feet to trample on those eggshells.
Thick and oozing, Guilt chokes me with the bitter treacle of desperation. That slow, solitary and selfish creature pulls a mirror before my eyes. All I see is me. I am deaf to everything that isn’t me, me, me –
Until they talk.
Ellie’s ears prick: Mum? Dad?
Time swallows morsels of recovery greedily. Effort takes time, but temptation hoards it.
“We’ve noticed an increase in Anorexic behaviours this week, Ellie.”
Oh Mum, thank you. Thank you for telling me.
Please help me fix it.
My parents push Anorexia, they don’t push me.
To Mum and Dad, thank you. Thank you for trusting me, I want to make you proud.