Music is so calorific.
A feast for the ears and heart, a score of temptations.
Ellie used to gorge herself on music, spending years binging behind her harp. She stuffed chords into the air and felt the notes grow fat, wobbling as they resonated off her harpstrings. She’d indulge herself in a joy nobody else could touch, not down there in the audience. Power ripened on her harp through grades and concerts. The horizon dilated, and I tripped towards it high on adrenaline. The strings shook, and notes blurred.
Music was a temptation away from dieting and exercise. It was a safe haven to install Ellie, a place she could lose herself in and know she’d always be able to find herself again. She could hide from herself, and drown her thoughts out in a melody.
To recover from Anorexia, I have been prescribed food.
Food to provide calcium, protein and potassium. Food to fix osteoporosis, amenhorea and a broken body image. Food for thought and food for esteem: food to give me strength to see myself clearly again, and food to pass judgement thereafter. Food to build up muscle, and food to build up self-worth. Love. Love?
Self-love is by far my biggest fear food.
Being presented with it makes my mouth water, and I become afraid. Trapped in this denial is all part of the punishment. It’s all part of the cleansing I must go through to rid myself of Ellie, and become Anonymous.
I haven’t indulged in self love for a very long time. It has always looked too tough, too chewy and complex to swallow, to understand.
My doctors and family sing a different tune. Their’s is a forgiving one. The tone is sharper, but melts into the background of reality like butter.
The lyrics clash horrifically in my ringing ears. The syncopated jangling of my nerves unsettles their “It’s ok” preludes. “Stop punishing yourself” a rhapsodic rasp and completely out of tune with the anthem I’ve sung all my life, and still do.
Anorexia treatment is trying to retune my thoughts so they are brighter, so that I may climb more major scales.
My Anonymous melody works. It speaks for me, sums me up with all my sins and contains me on a downward spiral.
To recover, I must tune in to reality. I listen out for it above the grainy images in my head, and try to sift through each one, sorting fears between ‘real’ and ‘imagined’.
Practising self love is a highly strung affair. Anonymous simply won’t swallow it: most of it won’t even make it to my plate.
A surge of inspiration was washed up after my Dad tuned my harp, and Ellie’s thumbs pricked. I plucked up some courage and a few strings, and with encouragement, I did it. I played my harp, and chewed on a sweet morsel of love and relief, peppered with nostalgia that sprung tears from my eyes in the final bars.
These strings have been plucked a thousand times, but not for the last two years.
Anonymous is a fool to suppose that playing the harp is any less a workout than standing, or taking the only light exercise I’m allowed. Twelve bars in, cramp killed the moment and my arms stiffened where they lay. My muscles froze over, petrified by the work that lay ahead. These fingers groaned in protest and these feet – in those shoes – shuffled clumsily along the pedals. And my back. Oh, my barren back. The ghost of posture’s past rattled in the empty pores of my spine. Holding up an armful of rosewood, 46 strings and a dead harp career, it was my back that cried out first when I plucked that first string.
Anorexia is finely tuned in to any form of sitting, and so harp practice causes a clash of peripatetic emotions: mostly alarm and panic. One or two attacks thereafter.
Over the last two weeks, I’ve managed to ease Ellie into a chair and force Anonymous to sit there and listen for 5 or 10 minutes, here and there.
For now, that’s all I can manage. And for now, that’s enough.
I chewed on this treat, listening to symphonic joy tremble my very being. Somewhere inside, I felt Ellie danceng again. She knotted and unknotted my tummy, lifted my arms like the willow trees in Marraconelo Way – my childhood home – and delved back into the music.
Thought process got caught up in this hedonistic party, and then I gave myself away. In a stuffy staffroom, I let slip to the headmaster that I played the harp.
Nice one Ells. You’ve done it now: you’ve sealed your fate and cast it into the music.
I wasn’t sure how to approach it at first. A harp performance in front of the whole school blocked up my future with exposure, humiliation, and ultimately, loosing my job.
My performance lurked in the corner of coming days, a real and gasping fear. There was so much that could go wrong, so many strings to hold and so many thoughts to order, reorder, disorder. How heavy would the silence be when it eventually fell?
I saw how it would be: held down and nerves wracked, fate screwing tighter.
No. Scratch that. We won’t make it to the end of the paragraph, I’ll lose you in the gloom.
I need to change the narrative.
Is it possible, Ellie, that your character had been feeling a little bit excited?
I waited in the wings.
Today, Ellie, you are not anxious. Feel that pleasant flutter, that fluid knotting, that movement? This is not the work of anxiety, who’s hand constricts around every sense and squeezes it tight, tight, tighter.
No, today you are nervous.
Oh, nervousness – my familiar friend! Oh, oh, oh – all is forgiven. Welcome back, you dithering twit. You are quite pleasant in comparison to your high-flying elder sibling. Anxiety is such a bore, you’re much more exciting.
Nerves, thanks for being here. Thank you for helping me.
How lovely it is to write that: that I felt something so normal and benign as stage-fright.
Ellie pulled me on stage, gripping me by my hair as it stood on end.
My fingers hovered over the strings, circling and skirting. They nestled between in the intervals. The silence was thick, and squeezed out from in-between the strings like honey. My fingertips traced the strings. C,D,E.
My harp hid me well. The scene was strung up and sliced into thin, bitesized chucks. Every face in the audience was blocked by a strip of nylon or brass, I couldn’t see my colleagues lining the hall, I couldn’t see the way out.
I had to hold this harp, this head, and the children’s wandering and wondering attentions.
I couldn’t hear the buzz of anticipation, only my silence, quaking in it’s final moments.
The wood weighed heavy on my shoulder, but held me close. I let the silence fall, and embraced music.
A far cry tuned in to where I was, and why.
The first note – that very first B – tore. It grazed the quiet and the melody frayed my nerves. Chords sparkled and strings sang. I nestled closer into my instrument.
I had forgotten how much I enjoyed performing. Enjoyment: another nourishing and indulgent treat.
That first B plucked the poison from my head and I was let go, lost in rolling chords. I played on, on and on, into the softness of the room. Then the peace ended, and I had to stop.
My portion of enjoyment was dwarfed by that of the school. I have never known 200+ children sit so completely and utterly still. One could have heard silence splintering. I made grown men cry and succumbed under the layers of myself.
Then the peace ended, and I had to stop. When the last child had left and the final note hummed, I fell over the stiffened corpse of who I used to be, and burst into tears. Awe-struck by what I had just found, terrified of what to do with it now.
There are so many calories in enjoyment. I was hit by a sugary rush of adrenaline and tripped through a day at work high on endorphins. I had so much energy, I simply couldn’t contain it beneath this skin. Surely, to sustain this feeling, I must make more room for it. I clung to the confused ecstasy like my leggings do my thighs, and let it carry me through the meals, trials and tantrums over the coming days. Eating food, for a moment, was easy. Logical. I had just seen what nourishment meant, how much power it gave me.
Only now, a day later, is that feeing beginning to ebb away.
Anorexic guilt bit gently into how long I sat for, how deceitful it is to pretend I’m anywhere near as good at the harp as Ellie was.
She’s biting down on her own lip. Not out of nerves, but anxiety.
I hope Anorexia feels threatened by my performance. I hope she saw and heard every tiny detail: putting myself out there, facing a fear; identifying and understanding how I felt and what I felt. Distinguishing between the reality of Nervousness, and the monstrous Anxiety that embellished my mind’s eye.
This has to be another step, another push into the next movement of Recovery.
If only a rest could come, and for my thoughts to quieten down.