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.

Moveable Feasts

My decision to defer university for another year left devastation in it’s wake. Every day sinks deeper. Loss is a natural disaster, and it has taken a while for grief to catch up. Finally, it has arrived.
When the “whether” broke and the decision dawned on me, the pressure dropped and sucked anxiety away.
In the few days that followed my deferral, Anonymous took cover in the eye of the storm, and let relief rain. Together we watched the waves of anguish build as September approached. The ghost of my leaving date leered.
I wade into another day of Recovery. My reason to eat was washed away, and disorder was left in it’s wake.
It is a storm too big to get over. No, all I can do now is get through it. Slash through each day as it comes. Stand away from the tides of triggers, and wait for it all to pass.

We are all trying to grapple with what has just happened. I have been feeling my way down the levels of grief, gathering my thoughts together. Denial was first to disrupt the calm climate of relief. It passed by in relief: shrugging off questions, and letting distraction shield me from the nip in the air. Realisation froze over in the following week. The sugary rush of relief passed, and now grief craves a home. Somewhere to place this feeling, some direction or purpose.

Here is grief.
Ellie found words with no meaning.
Pages of writing for nobody to read.
Illness there for nothing, but health.
No doubt to eat, no regret to drink. No satiety for the full.
Nothing to make anything from.
A plot lost in the story.

I also found a body. Let us examine this specimen here, in the mirror: where it was first discovered. It was last seen 2kg ago, stumbling across a weight graph towards a hospital admission. Notice it was discovered far from the inpatients unit: it must have endured those 2kg just to escape more intensive treatment. Goodness, it has been through a lot in the short space of two months.
Food complimented Ellie by rushing to the parts she is most proud of. Fat flirts with my face, the weight on my cheeks only trying to make my smile come back. High priority was given to my face in particular: the one that speaks for and represents the brain it cradles. This aid was distributed to protect my brain. I suppose I should feel flattered that Ellie believes this mind is worth protecting.
This weight is incriminating: it proves that in this instance, Anonymous lied. Time blew over what Anorexia blew out of proportion: that extra 2kg didn’t look as horrifying as it should have. Had the scales not pointed it out, I probably wouldn’t have noticed. Of course, now it is obvious. Now, it’s the next 2kg I’m worried out.
The eye of the storm watches me deciding what to do with the body.

Grief broke Recovery’s image: now I see a liar. It told me I would get out if I gained a little weight. Struggling against the tide of grief took kcal..

Anonymous wrapped her arms around my meal plan, and squeezed it tight.
My glass of milk was reduced to a dribble in a cup of tea – decaf – sipped to stretch my “snack” hour out. Nuts rained like bullets into the bin, they were the first casualties in the retreat. Anonymous blocked up all calories leaking in through liquid, resulting in a breakfast drought. Today, she eyed up my yogurt. How many kcal is it worth trying to save, Ellie?
The storm broke, and restriction soaked up the floods of panic. Still, they come in waves. I caught Ellie’s eye wandering, looking at Anorexia in awe.
She’s still got it.

After being pushed into a crowd of emotions, I withdrew. I turned off my phone, I left work after only 2 hours. Still, I couldn’t escape time. It was crushing.

From behind my closed door, Anonymous spied on my family. Ellie progressed backwards and responded only to the adrenaline surge that beat her head against the wall.
Where I couldn’t control my emotions, I controlled my environment. Anonymous counted the calories on my parents plates before she made a meal of preparing her own supper. She caught a whiff of unsolicited cooking – 15:00hrs; 09/09/2017; a slow cooker – and defended herself with venom. The world turned against me, so I turned my head against the wall: one, two, three. Doors that shut with a crack, squeak, sigh cued an anorexic attack.
One, two, three.
Pennies and pins dropped, and cracked through the house like a whip. Kindness and cruelty were made mute, their tongues cut off on eggshells.
The calm after the storm never arrived, the rage just kept building.
One, two, crack –

The paintwork is bruised from where my head hits it. I use the same place every time: the strong and silent type, the sort my parents would never find out about. If it weren’t for the screaming.
Self harm is just another form of grief: just another action that will never have the words to explain itself. The injured character, looking for a victim.

I couldn’t contain Anorexia. There was just so much to manage, and I needed her help. In such turbulent times, the only permanent thing is change.

After the storm, I pieced together an existence for Anorexia to work on, and for Ellie to work with. Sifting through lies, limits and numbers; trying to disorder kcal to reorder kg.
I asked for my job back, and squashed all temptation of university under administration and paperwork.
A dream of other offers a full recovery can offer swam before my eyes. Travel, writing, good books, a different course or different –
wait. I’m getting ahead of myself. I think it is just so Grief doesn’t catch up with me again.

A gathering of thoughts, a triggering job, and Time.
This is what has been left over.
A reason to set an alarm in the morning.

Losing university is just another loss. Another one. What, Ellie, have you got to lose now? What is there left for Change to take away?
Life cannot be this greedy. If I only asked, perhaps it would give something back. Like Time. That slippery, omniscient narrator: the one Anorexia cannot stop. I must spend this time wisely: or else Recovery will run away with it.

I looked back at my decision as it receded. Unshaken, it holds its head up high. It was made right, out of honest reasons for which I am proud of. As are my parents and doctors. I don’t trust my own thoughts because they are infected, but I know this one is clean. Everyone was having it: I’m not ready for university yet. It is not the ned of the world, as it seemed at first. As if the world has any sort of limited to meeting my deadline of returning to university now. No, I just need more time.

This is a blot on my manuscript. A mistake.
Reading over the last two weeks, I can see my characters turn on each other. The narrative changed. It’s nature turned erratic, and I lost my place. I can’t remember where I left Recovery.
This is not how my life was meant to be.

The plot, and Ellie’s blood, thickens.
How empty those words sound, how grievous.

Make or Break

I watched the decision through the eye of a storm.

Indecision blew hot and cold. Time became a high pressured patch charged with anxiety. Self harm was up and mood plummeted. Depressive waves met a cold front of determination, causing the “whether” to break down in tears. Days dripped by.
Now, August has melted.
I could feel time rubbing against my thighs. I heard the deadline for my decision wade closer: Ellie, are you going to start university this September?

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What to do.

My design of university looks beautiful from afar. Honest strokes of luck and hard work, lines leading to a career and a family. A strong and stable template on which I could rebuild my life. Something to eat for, a reason to get out of bed in the morning. The distance from home would shut my parents out of this ugly world of mental illness: they would no longer have to bear witness and the brunt of Anorexic attacks. The reasons to go are large and strikingly familiar.
University is in fashion. Whilst it is very stylish, it doesn’t suit everyone. Ellie looks at model students and longs to join their ranks. She would like nothing more than to strut through life, degree clad and morally high heeled. Two years into university I was tripped up on the catwalk, because my ambition became too thin to fit freedom. One year into my recovery, I am still hungry for brain food. I am starving for something to think about that hasn’t been soiled by Anorexia’s grubby fingers.
On this blank canvas, Ellie thought she could paint Anonymous out of the picture.

Come closer.

Of course, university looks a bit sickly for an anorexic. Lectures make Ellie salivate; but there are so many calories in sitting for so long, exercising nothing but grey cells. A whiff of vodka on someone else’s breath could make anxiety cough. A bit of a mouthful, but manageable, surely?

Come closer.

I followed my thought patterns, and noticed how they curled away from lectures and the library. Societies were stitched up to my anorexic exercise quota. Independence embroidered the opportunity to make food alone and eat alone. Trainers were shackled to my feet so I could run wild. Rushes of icy sea air stripped calories off my skin. Books were balanced by bargaining hours in the library vs size of meals, and there would be nobody I had to explain myself to. Anonymous measured how much time I’d have between lectures, and began to knit in extra exercise. Anonymous has been scripting how to ask my parents to let me bring my bike. She hasn’t got it quite right yet. We don’t want them to suspect anything.
On this blank canvas, Anonymous has already signed her name.

Anorexia was the skeleton structure. Anonymous built my desire to leave home as soon as she could, long before Ellie was ready. She just wanted to get away: she had a life to get on with. Something to work on; a gym to be in, a schedule to stick to.

Ellie caught me buying my doctor’s and parent’s trust with a forgery of recovery. I know how to make progress seem real. It is so easy to sacrifice a few kg to convince people to let me get on with what I’m doing. A perfect loophole to squeeze Anonymous through. Had I started university again this month, Anonymous would have reaped her reward for waiting.

My recovery is delicate.
It frays at the touch of disorder, and falls to pieces when Anxiety tugs it too hard. The mere thought of sitting in the car for too long caused Ellie’s resilience to split, and my meal plan fell through.
I’ve been collecting material for recovery for over a year, and it still won’t hold. As it is, it is nothing more than straw to clutch at. It won’t stretch to university: it can barely cover the car journey.

At the moment, all I want is to go to university. That is what worries me.
Just a little longer. Soon, you won’t have to carry another kcal more than you need to.

Anxiety stirred as I tried to tie together reasons to go. They didn’t feel genuine. It felt me feeling totally unfit to make this decision alone. But I have to. This has to be my decision, or it shall always taste bitter.

Ellie looked everywhere for inspiration on which to base her decision.
Anonymous’ rage wouldn’t listen to a word said against her escape plan. Conversations with my parents were locked down in silence. Anxiety attacks saved Anonymous if anyone dared tread on an eggshell she laid around the topic of deferring. It was a war of attrition.
Last week, I found a piece to add to my decision. A channel 4 documentary on Anorexia spat taboo out into the laps of its audience. Maddy Austin stood before me, living proof that recovery is possible. The camera panned around the very hospital I receive my treatment: one of the best in the country. I am lucky. Ellie, why are you pushing that away?

Accepting my place on a course at the far reaches of the country would move my illness into a dark corner. Depleted staff and funding lurks in the black splodges over the North, the south, east and west. Unlike the rich light that the Surrey NHS basks in, there dark patches are anorexic playgrounds. Illnesses grow and learn without supervision.
I am receiving some of the best treatment the NHS will buy. I am lucky. Even with such intense treatment, I am not ‘well’ enough to fit into anything bigger than size “anorexic”. My current challenge is peeling back the first layer of recovery: the task of restoring weight.

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Need support in every sense: guess who bought a bra this week!

Whilst the mirror cracks up as I pass it, and the ground shakes with the weight of an extra strawberry, it is now that I need the most help.
Pushing my increases deeper into fold of time I don’t have makes recovery harden around me.
Who else would tell me to escape support, but an illness?

Every good piece of art raises questions. Of course I questioned something as colourful as university. It simply couldn’t be true that I’d move away and leave Anorexia behind.

Here, in my hands, is my decision. I don’t know what to do with it now, or how to describe it to you.
It turned out to be sensible, just not very pretty. It looks easy from your eyes.
Come closer.
If only you knew the devastation it has caused me since I came to it.
If only you knew how hard it was to take away from Anonymous.
I will not be starting university this September. If I did, I would be saving Anorexia.

I need an extra slice of time.
University is a moveable feast. My recovery is not.
Today, it tastes bitter. I’m just a failing anorexic. My arrangement with Anonymous fell through: I tried so hard, and ate so much – for nothing.

There isn’t room in a single blog post to explain my decision properly. I don’t have enough time, I need more time.
My decision had to be made right. Even a wrong one needed to be made with complete honesty, not with cheap materials like doubt and regret. They are weak resources, and would fall to pieces in days.

I practice making the decision to recover every single day.
I could present you with an archive of finished decisions that have lined my stomach in the last year. Taking a shorter walk; clinging onto a dietary increase even after gaining 0.4kg last week. Leaving Dad’s dirty teaspoon on the side, where he left it, only because Anonymous wanted to scream for him to clean up after himself, for heaven’s sake. Really, Anonymous, what is in a teaspoon?

This feels like the hardest decision I have ever made. Choosing to stay under intensive treatment is choosing to recover: to do exactly what Anonymous fears. What I fear. It is a decision that rests in my hands, and I hold it up to you with pride. Come closer. I just escaped an anorexic trap.

The “whether” front has broken. Now, I am in tears.

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“She makes, the sound, the sound the sea makes,” – alt j.

Anor-versary

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

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

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

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

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“Afternoon-pick-me-up” Archive

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

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

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

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

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

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

comparison
13.06.16 v. 13.06.17

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

 

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What a colourful start (to my day) !

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

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

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Choosing recovery:

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.