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.

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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:

Dirty Looks

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

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

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

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

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

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Still really struggling with the smoothie increase.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Showing me how it is done!

It’s A Family Thing

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.
Violated.
I blinked.
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.
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.

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Nobody panic: I tried it!

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.

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I had something different for lunch, and that was ok 🙂

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.

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Meet the Parents

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.

Strength Testing

Anonymous ate my spine.
It was chewy, with splinters from the doormat nestling in the gristle. She slurped the pores dry of the nectar of strength; a rare find, because Ellie never had much to begin with.
Anorexia took my spine, and gave me osteoporosis.
Anonymous took my spine, and gave me nerves.
Emotion rages through the shell of my bones and rattles Ellie to her core.
A gift from recovery, but a tool for Anorexia.

I don’t have the strength to bear the weight of Thoughts.
There isn’t room for them: they put too much pressure on the tottering pile of food and time and adrenaline and numbers and adrenaline and people and adrenaline –
– so they slam down onto my legs.
Blotchy bruises blush in blue and black.
They’ll claw at my skin: grab handfuls of cheek and arm and thigh – then pull – and pull, and pull.
Their fingernails burrow into my elbows and rip ravines up my arms. Frayed seams flood with quivering bulbs of salty blood.
The wall coughs in disapproval when they bounce my head against it. I watch glimmering specs dance, dive and dissolve to the symphony of thunder cracks.
Thoughts are released, and escape me. Ellie escapes them.
The moment is broken. For a moment.

Sometimes, I believe Anonymous: it was easier when I was starving.
Anorexia relieved me of the nebular kaleidoscope of feeling.

Recovery is strenuous.
Becoming ill was comparatively easy: I wasn’t fighting anything. I simply let myself drift into the cool embrace of numb indifference. Nobody will hurt a thin girl.
Please don’t hurt me.

The training programme is extensive, and entails emotional resistance and maintenance coaching.
Ellie is learning to manage the portions life serves up to her: all different sizes, textures and tastes.
I have not acquired a taste for strength, so Ellie makes it palatable by lathering it in thick layers of grotesque effort.

I am building a spine out of the broken pieces of Thought.

Food only cracks Anorexia’s surface.
I do not have the strength to sit. Lazy.
My muscle tissues weep in stagnant frustration. The food – you haven’t earned it – wallows and oozes into my cells. You’re getting weaker.
See, I can feel it. Sitting here, pen in hand, I can feel it.
Feel it.
Fat is not an emotion, Ellie. No, you cannot feel it.
Please sit another minute, please finish this paragraph.

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Discovered the power of green juice to fuel a busy day at work!

I am not pacified until I fly high with exhaustion. You need to earn this.
I have tried flexing my muscles at that thought.
After work, as I hand over, I have accepted the invitation to sit in the office, rather than stand.
I counted a full minute in the car, during which I didn’t twitch unnecessarily.
I chose not to mount the stairs at work. There are 15 of them: they make my eyes drool and Anonymous’ mouth water.
When I cried yesterday, I sat down.

After marching about the floor at work, I applaud my muscles but worry for Ellie. Anonymous has gotten a taste for the activity on a working day, and she haunts me with it on my days off. Move.
I can’t find the strength to sit, and it makes me worry for the future of my recovery.

I shift the weight of thought from one shoulder to the other: when I do something brave, I stand up straight. I use my pride to straighten my porous posture. I choose not to react to a thought, but sit with it for a moment.
Recovery is training Ellie how to stoke fiery melancholy and thaw out anger. She is teaching me how to balance these emotions on my fragile frame.
She has promised to introduce me to Better: I will manage Better, because I will know Better.

An aftertaste: I re read this entry, and felt nothing. There is no room for more triggers, least of all for shame.