A Stranger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.)

A Life in the day

It starts with alarm.
Armed with a routine, Anorexia gets me out of bed in the mornings to confront them. Anonymous sets about emptying the day.

Act 1, Scene 3: Breakfast.
Everything ticking along nicely: the dishwasher emptied; curtains drawn. Radio 4 humming under an Anonymous monologue. The stage set for a successful breakfast.
Then Dad comes in a line early, and I am thrown.
The door clatters in it’s frame. The kettle groans; teacups clink; a teaspoon heckles me from the sink.
I lost my place in the breakfast script: there was no order to work through to ensure I measured every tablespoon accurately. Now I’m going to be late. Hurry, stop getting in my way. Let me get on with my life.
Cue: an anorexic panic. Insults, agitation –
and so the scene dissolves.

Act 1, Scene 3: Breakfast – take 2.
Everything ticking along nicely: the dishwasher emptied; curtains drawn. Radio 4 humming under an Anonymous monologue. The stage set for a successful breakfast.
Then Dad comes in a line early, and I am thrown.
The door clatters in it’s frame. The kettle groans; teacups clink; a teaspoon heckles me from the sink.
I lost my place in the breakfast script. Now, now what.

A daily grind bores away the day, a day structured to hold up anorexia.
What I’m going to eat later stalks me out of bed.
The breakfast sequence is followed by a string of stills in front of the bathroom mirror. I push the morning through the smaller hours by faffing and floating between rooms, gathering piles of socks and moving them from the bed to the cupboard. Back into a draw.
Time becomes bloated with movement.
I leave the house searching for something to do, somewhere to tip all these unwanted minutes. Sitting in the driver’s seat sends my heart racing, so I manoeuvre within a 25minutes radius. This is my tolerance limit. At traffic lights my legs jig and my back twitches. An angry exorcism of leftover calories is only complete when I am out of the car – standing.
My morning out is carefully choreographed between a narrow spread of aisles, alleys and side streets. Carpark metres, a street sweeper, a window displaying the same set of disguises it had the day before. And the day before that.
Ellie comes up for air for 20mins midmorning. A clash of meal plans and an anorexic plot, in which I have a coffee. I gobble up the extra minutes in situ, and stuff them under the nib of a pen. As I write this, I’m sipping on my regular skinny latte (“Is this definitely skimmed milk?”). I won’t reach the end of this paragraph. I only have a few mouthfuls left. We need to be getting home anyway, or I’ll be late for lunch
Before I eat, there is a 40mins palate cleanser: home, sink, scrub, change, down stairs for a bag, up stairs to replace the bag, downstairs and into the kitchen. Up again for that scarf I deliberately left there, just to squeeze another 14 steps into the day. Food preparation will take up enough standing space to justify hiring out time for lunch.
Are you bored yet? I certainly am.
But wait – the day has barely begun.
The sticky hours between 2 and 3 pass through me reluctantly. The clock hand crawls across it’s face to hide it’s shame. The impossible task of doing nothing: freezing bananas, rearranging the fridge, making trips upstairs with the laundry: half a pile at a time.
Standing up against the tyranny of time.
The final push to the summit of the day: my afternoon walk. Come rain or shine, sleet snow and sorrow: thou shalt roam aimlessly, with nothing to lose but kcal.
(With irony): Another nugget of anorexic wisdom.
It’s downhill from here. A shower washes supper gently down the steep slope of the day. Only then can relief rain between the pages of this notebook.
It is only by achieving anorexia, that I earn the right to write.
Soon, I can put this all to bed. Emptying a day means there is nothing to make dreams out of. Instead, I listen to Ellie snore through Anonymous’ regret at having survived another day in recovery.
Then it’s time to wake up.
How I wish I could ride that snooze button a few minutes longer.
But you can’t Ellie. You’ll be late.

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Seconds sank into the mud

Variations on a theme:
Weekends: 9hr shift at restaurant. A workplace routine is already in place.
Hospital clinics: subject to appointment type, doctor and duration. Move walks from pm to am accordingly.

A fluid family life was cut off by my routine. Coming and going with tides of day trips and mealtimes became stuck in the past. Anorexia diluted quality time together and reduced it to drips through the day: the gap between my snack and shower; an cross over around lunchtime.
In this arid loneliness, there is nothing to get in my way. No obstacle that helps inactivity hoard kcal into mounts of kg.
You’re in my way. My brother wakes up during the faffing phase and trips me up on my way to the bathroom. My Dad cuts the lawn on a dry afternoon, nuturing irritation into agitation. They abscond my radar and come home without sending out a precautionary text message, so I can plan around their arrival. Noise soaks into the air and makes Anxiety sweat.
They never speak to Ellie during the day, only tolerate Anonymous’ howling if they dare cook themselves a stir fry. The stench of food injures her. Like rubbing salt into a wound.
Billy, stop jumping up. No. No Billy. You cannot come on my walk: your little legs will tire, and why must you stop and sniff so often? Cuddles later Billy, you’re making me late. I’m late for my shower.
His wagging tail slows, and dies. When the day is tired out, there is a slot to cuddle my Billy. It is my favourite time of day.

Daily habits are props for Anorexia.
Reading a newspaper every mealtime gives food a side order of politics and opinion. The BBC and the Times feed productivity levels. I’ll sit at a little table in the laundry room, by the window. I know I won’t be disturbed in there. I’ll have the peace of mind to concentrate on my food and paper.
The washing up must be undone before I start eating, just so Anonymous feels she’s earned her carbs.
That smoothie bowl can’t just look the best: it has to be the best. Something to do with achievement, “some might think”.

Old hobbies were easily killed off by an obsession with exercise.
Broken strings curl around my harp like roots around a coffin.
Books gather dust as I struggle to keep on top of the pile with only 30mins of reading before bed.
If time goes spare and rests back in a chair, it hoards calories.

Beyond these four corners of this life lies recovery: Ellie is sure of it.
I can’t see the point of recovery whilst tripping along in a hunger high, waiting for change to calm shallow storms.
There is no point, only a smooth learning curve.

The challenge for a few months has been to throw pinches of disruption into my day.
Moulding my day around someone else’s plans had me withstanding a painful 20mins drive to meet a friend for a walk, instead of asking her to come here. To save the sitting.
Moving supper back by 45 mins meant I could eat with my family. So far, the calories haven’t surprised my body. As far as we can tell, Ellie hasn’t been tricked into snacking afterwards at all, even if she eats earlier. Huh.
My camera roll has depleted this month: not every meal has been captured and retained for future reference.
I set a timer at 15:02, and buried 15mins between the pages of Zadie Smith. Anonymous found me a whole chapter later.
I checked my phone before 6pm.
In the midst of the perfect breakfast, I let that teaspoon lie.
If I look after the habits, the routine will look after itself.

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It was magical.

Here is proof of doing something different: news. A change. This just in: I have been offered a job in a primary school. Yes: I put my anorexic confidence out there. Sat during the interview and everything! I even risked spending a moment sitting, reading through the application forms before 5pm.
How nice to do something that won’t hurt.

At the end of the day, one day, Recovery will work better than anorexia – Time tells me so.
Ellie struggles finding something to live for, in what she lives with.
But at least she is trying. Every exhausted time.

Try harder.
– and so the scene dissolves.

The Anonymous Diner

I watched a woman break it apart.
The crisp crust crackled, the soft dough murmured, and it’s woven folds were torn to pieces. Crumbs were cast across the room, landing thunderously onto the tabletop, the floor, in her lap. Silver steam rose from the loaf’s open pores.
She held a fragment between two fingers, and suspended it above a dish of gleaming oil.
Then she lowered it in, and the bread yellowed. Bubbles of balsamic vinegar crept into it’s sodden fibres: black fireworks punctured the frayed shred.
She made the bread an accessory. It was a tool in her conversation, a prop in the performance of social eating.
She began to dunk and swirl it in the thick dressing; round and round, up and down, one two three. When she lifted it out, a golden thread dropped delicately from it’s pillowy edges.
She was in complete control of that food, and I was morbidly enthralled.
Suddenly, she devoured it. I had to turn away.

Anonymous can smell fear.
She transforms rich aromas of spice and substance into a stench of indulgence, and haunts me with it.
Food became a torturous confrontation: the sight was grotesque; the sound threatening; the touch painful and the taste denied. The smell was what concerned Anonymous the most: it was a temptation she needed to control.
If I can smell food, she tells me I am too close to it. Surely, the calories will melt into my skin, and fat diffuse through my nostrils.
The closer I am to food, the more real the threat to my nose and face and body.
The closer it gets, the more it becomes less of an object, and more of an experience.

For other people, food enriches but doesn’t define.
I have been numb to the crushing envy I feel when I watch people eat. I watch them explore the sensory festival laid out for them on a plate, and I ache.

My previous job as a waitress made me a slave to Anonymous.
“You’re stronger than them, you can resist.”
“Don’t let it touch you: it will ruin all we have worked for.”
“Hold your breath NOW”
“… those fumes are toxic …”
“… back away from the plate …”
“… now breathe.”

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Tell me I look cute in my new uniform.
I have changed employer in body and soul.
Anonymous may be supervising, but I am trying to answer to Ellie. Ellie is fascinated by the ritual of food consumption.
Yes, the presence of food makes me nervous. The nerves are not wracked with fear this time, but with alarm at the sensory awakening I am allowing myself to be exposed to.

I felt barren of purpose following my withdrawal from university, but choosing to go back to waitressing was fuelled by more than a desire to fill time.
I need to dilute my relationship with food.
The reality is much less scary than the dream.

In this instance, I have been blessed by fate with a wonderfully fulfilling job, and the most kind and understanding work friends and managers.
I didn’t hide Anorexia during my interview: I needed them to know they were hiring three new members of staff: myself, Ellie and Anonymous.
I come out of work exhausted, but beaming.

I love my job, but it scares me.
I snuggle up to Ellie the elephant at night (remember her?), and shudder. Anonymous scares me with flashbacks to the plates piled high with nourishment. Ellie scares me when I feel her shock at the realisation at how physically weak I am. Aching arms, legs, back; aching mouth and head and gut.
I had a hunger high at work this week: I will never recall if table 11 received their main course.

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I am allowed to bring my own lunch to work!
The staff are on Ellie’s side, and I now have two families to answer to: I have two families who are willing me to get better.
I refuse to let Anorexia make me a disappointment.
I am allowed breaks when I need it (I must just swallow my pride and say so); I can talk about my fears and struggles if I’m not coping; I am not expected to try any of the food I serve (which is usually required during training); I feel understood and accepted. Above all, I trust them.

The table is set for me to continue to recover.
For starters, may I offer you some good news? My heart rate has risen to 60bpm: well and truly out of the danger zone! It feels delicious.
My weight remains unpredictable and my greatest fear.
Now we must progress onto the next course.
I am waiting to take an order: but I already know Ellie wants to eat Anorexia for breakfast.