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.

img_5738.jpg
“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.

 

IMG_5735
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.

IMG_5733
Choosing recovery:

An Ode to Fear

I opened the book again. The picture was perfect and the directions were simple, with small steps sweeping down the page. A string of safe words nodded up at Ellie: oats, seeds, a nut or two. I studied it closer, scrutinising the riddles snaking down the margin. Ingredients were planting calories like sugar-coated mines. They made the steps slippery, and threatened to trip Anonymous up. Determination would flat on it’s face. It was a list corrupted by lust. A seductive tbsp of sugary anxiety; several heaped tsps of guilty indulgence. A pinch of terror. And yet, the picture made it look so easy. How hard can it be to follow a recipe? I shut the book and retreated.

Anonymous took a pencil to the margin of that recipe book, and started to count. Her hand spread numbers down the list. Calculations scrawled like graffiti, burrowing between the lines and unearthing something she could understand. g, tbsp, kcal. I could plate up my defaced proposal, and wait to see if Fear devoured it.

We watched clouds of coconut oil melt in the pan. Those fluffy clumps turned glassy, stained by streaks of honey. I had done the maths: Ellie could afford some honey. Dancing beads of spice condensed and smoked over the surface. The air was humid, and Anonymous flinched as steamy calories licked my face.
I poured half the mixture over the oats, then stopped again. A thick lathering was swiping into the cavities between seeds. Their toothy grins became sticky. The feathery husks of oats became soggy, and splintered pecans were soldered together. A hand held the pan, and I fixed my eyes on it’s contents. The sweet romance of coconut and oil was turning sour. Anonymous sized them up, boring into the eyes reflecting back at me. Gold died as it disappeared down the plughole. I poured temptation down the drain, drowning Fear’s snarls under a furious gush.
Ellie sighed, and retreated back to the task at hand. Once stirred, the finished product lay before me. It was slightly dry, but my excitement was wetted.
I watched the oven’s heat flatter a crumpled heap into granola. Spice speckled oats blushed gold and began to sweat. Fear melted away as the heat of the moment crept closer. Ellie, you just made granola.

IMG_5502 copy
Oh yes I did!

Fear is a thug. Some say it’s mouth is a gash ripped by the past, others that it has been worn open by diseased thoughts. The creed of Anorexia bleeds from Fear’s lips. Anxiety chooses to retreat into this small familiar space, and listen to it’s grey prophecies about the doom recovery would bring.
The face of Fear is said to be horrifying. Lingering in acceptance means I would never have to behold it, I would never have to look it in the eye. Instead, Ellie watches it’s shadow walk circles around Anonymous. Fear is Anorexia’s most loyal and effective protector. It provides a quality service for very little: it never even has to materialise into reality, or prove itself to be true. All Anonymous needs is for me to know that it is there, waiting to gobble me up.
Recovery regards Fear with morbid fascination. What makes Fear so trustworthy? Ellie has been encouraged by Recovery to engage with it. It is 9:27am. Why must I wait until 9:30am to take my dose of nuts?
Oh Ellie, why did you do it? Why did you bring about that great plague of confusion? Why Ellie, why, did you try and communicate with Fear? You know it doesn’t like confrontation.
A single question exposes Fear’s illiteracy. Put on the spot, terror squirms uncomfortably. It offers an explanation always starting with the only two words it knows: I can’t – then silence. Take a long hard look at Fear, Ellie. Listen. See, it cannot justify itself. It blinks stupidly when I can produce evidence even Anonymous would be proud of. Total kcal of my regular breakfast vs. total kcal of granola. Anonymous never told Fear why, it only told it what. Educated by Anorexia’s deprivation, Fear is starved of logic. I can relate to that, except I at least am hungry for answers.
I wonder if Fear will ever be able to justify why I’m not allowed to gain weight.

May has wrecked havoc on my hospital appointments. The aftershocks of bank holidays and technical glitches have rumbled long into the weeks that follow. Anonymous yelped when she heard that I was going to be weighed later in the day this week. My plan, my clinic routine, was ruined.
Fear spluttered: I can’t be weighed in the afternoon because I can’t sit in the afternoon because I can’t sit after lunch because lunch will be ruined too because of time there simply isn’t time. Anonymous was exposed to disruption, and she responded using Fear. I was forced into adapting for a day.
We waited for Fear’s predictions to come true. Covering my eyes, I got onto the scales after lunch. Don’t look. You know how heavy the consequences will be.
The number was the same. Nothing had happened.
Well, Anonymous, we weren’t expecting that were we?

Fear is strong, but brittle. Recovery can strike success through it’s time-rotten hide and suck knowledge from it’s core.
Shards of a broken fear fly into my eyes, scarring Anonymous’ sight but clearing some of Ellie’s blind spots. I barely recognise the corpse of a broken fear.
Since I first tried my granola, I have had it four times since. It was glorious (slightly burnt – but I prefer the term ‘toasty’). Defeated Fear provides a reassuring history lesson, and Ellie is learning how to respond to it.

Recovery finally rewarded me this week. I could indulge both Ellie and Anonymous in a treat: a yoga class.

IMG_5619.JPG
Ready to go!

As I squeezed my toes over the mat, I tested the gravity of being allowed to try some exercise after almost a year. Despair almost choked me when I struggled – osteoporosis snarled in my back and my legs twitched in shock – but then I exhaled. I stretched, and pulled myself together again. Needless to say you’re not as strong as you once were Ellie, but stand up straight. You’re trying hard.
I think Anonymous missed the point of yoga. She panicked in the moments my teacher asked us to simply practice breathing: exercise? You call this exercise? Moments later she was appeased, high on movement.
Ellie had made an informed choice about yoga. She had chosen a class, because it would keep Anorexia’s obsession under control. The hour for exercise would pass and expire: stop. You need to stop now. The temptation to carry on, to push harder and faster, would be rolled up and stuffed away. Someone else would be in control of my exercise, someone else might know better Ellie.
I am proud that I chose this class, and proud to say that I shan’t be going back this week. I can still taste exercise’s addictive tang, even a year after being banned from it. I’m not strong enough to resist it yet.

I watched my yogi flex out of a shoulder stand pose, and fold her hands over her baby bump. The human body is capable of so much. Imagine what the mind could do, if it was allowed.

Some food for thought: I am excited to announce that the charity Youth Mental Health Matters has included “Eating for Ellie” in it’s awareness campaign. This new organisation brings mental health education into schools in the UK, and is spreading from the northwest nationwide with the gathering support of MPs. There is nothing more nourishing than education.

A Balancing Act

I placed my spoon and fork together, and held onto the silence. The bowl, a crater smeared with the residue of saliva, was empty.
I had scraped the final morsels into my mouth with relish, savouring every last lick:IMG_5280
Almonds had shattered into a cloud of quinoa. Plump olives and pulpy raisins had swollen under the smoke of hummus. Bouquets of broccoli were flecked with shreds of chilli and buttery cashews. The mousse of sweet potato had sponged the lining of my mouth with a spicy lathering, and glazed it in a bittersweet dressing. The marbled colour of my salad bowl snuggled, swirled and separated. Green grew creamy, and the rust of tomato ripened under the sun of a lemony stain. Steam curled its fingers up into my nose, and the aroma of sweet anticipation suffocated Anonymous for a moment. I could only hear clusters of chickpeas crumble between my teeth, and a floret rasp as my tongue caressed it from my fork.
Electrified, the firing of thoughts had ceased.
Pleasure pulled at my cheeks and made me smile: I couldn’t help it. It was just so yummy.

Smudged and smeared, the face reflected back at me from my spoon stared at Anonymous and Ellie. It’s eyes were curious, and challenged one of them to break the silence. “So,” they seemed to ask, “What have we learned today?”
Reflecting on a meal after I’ve eaten it allows me to gather my thoughts together, and order them in a way so that the recovery battle can begin again with renewed vigour. Writing my way out of my eating disorder has taken on many guises: it is an exercise that forces me to communicate with each voice as it prattles in harmony with my cutlery.
This particular moment of recuperation happened just last week, when I took myself to London. The Mae Deli has become an oasis: it is the only place I trust myself to eat in. It is the only place that doesn’t serve threat, in all it’s imagined glory.
I sat beside my empty plate, surrounded by the chatter of other diners. Ellie nodded with pride as she nursed the wounds inflicted by Anxiety during the long journey leading to that first bite. Anorexia’s visions of a certain future wobbles, and neutralises as it dissolves into the present. In the peace of my own solitude, I asked myself: “So, what have you learned today?”

I had walked through the door, intruding on that serene scene of well nourished respect. My eyes darted around the room. I need a table now. Anonymous, high on adrenaline and panic, had pursued me across the city convincing me there wouldn’t be space. There wouldn’t be space, and therefore I wouldn’t eat. I need to eat now, or I won’t. I won’t.
Oh look, you can sit here. Here, next to the flowers.
I looked into my empty bowl, and saw questions swirling in the dregs. What would have happened if you had to wait? Was your metabolism really going to trick you into ballooning seconds after your deadline?
I want to call on Ellie to question her claim of control. Anonymous is in control of when I eat.
– until someone sits at the last table.

The scoop of quinoa had bulged in the ladle, leering at me as it tumbled with muffled thunder into the bowl. It looked so big. I realised I hadn’t noted from which corner of the dish it had been conjured from. Perhaps it had been scraped from the depths of that pot, from the abyss where heavy bulbs of oily dressing had sunk? I hadn’t counted the chunks of sweet potato as they were nudged into place. The numbers were Anomalies: an unknown jumble of carbs and calories. They couldn’t be compared and contrasted with the data I consumed every other day. I couldn’t do the maths: have I earned this? What will the result be?

Those questions weren’t answered that day. Whilst they didn’t sour the enjoyment on my tongue, they did chase me around Hyde Park for the rest of the afternoon. Earn those calories.

Every mouthful was peppered with a question: what does this mean?

The will to try with this recovery battle hangs in the balance each day with how well Ellie and Anonymous can argue.
I swing from one conflict to the next, trying to balance out each argument and identify whose voice it belongs to. The most recent was the Great Grape Grievance: Surely, if I ate one grape now that’s greedy? I had lunch an hour ago, I don’t need it. How would it look in my food diary? A whole extra line, how greedy. How indulgent.
Yes, but how nice it would be.
(I didn’t eat the grape. I’m still trying to work out what that extra grape would say about me.)

Reflection allows me the freedom to engage with my food anxieties after they have climaxed.
I had a discussion with Anxiety in the Mae Deli. I asked her why she was afraid of breaching Anonymous’ rules. Thus began her tale:
Anxiety claims to have travelled to a land called the Future, where she met a monster. That monster was named Weight Gain. Trembling with fear, she retold me a tale that will leave her worthless and alone. Ellie wanted to know what made this demon so monstrous. She began to describe an independent creature with a life completely out of it’s control, with nobody to help it. Horns and fangs had grown from indulging on the forbidden fruit of food and freedom.
Anorexia has helped me keep this beast at bay thus far. Anonymous will stop me from being gobbled up.
Looking into my spoon, I can see through Anonymous’ deceptive tale. She isn’t afraid of Weight Gain, she is afraid of what it stands for. She is frightened by it’s power to control how other people treat me, long after they’ve forgotten that weight doesn’t fill the hole that made me starve out Ellie. She is frightened by how Ellie might treat me.
What would it mean?

Recovery needs to grow a hand for me to hold, because I am hanging in the balance of each bite, each day. My hopes of returning to university in September are slipping between my sweating palms, away into a static space balancing on the scales. It would mean a lot to Ellie if she could cope with going back, it really would. At the moment, that portion size looks a bit too much to ask for.

IMG_5281
Milk meditations

I savour those seconds of silence after a bite. Enjoyment doesn’t sour in my mouth, it lingers. An animal in me stirs: I am meant to eat. I deserve to eat. Somewhere, something swings into balance, and I can smile. These are precious moments, and they give me hope.

An aftertaste: Months before my diagnosis and a year ago today, I had my first meeting with my lovely nutritionist J. She would later save my life with a glass of milk, and give me the confidence to try: try something new, ask those questions, take that challenge. A year a ago today, I presented her with a list of foods I would not touch. I found that list in my diary, and Ellie is proud to say that she is able to cross most of them out. A precious moment, and it gives me hope.

IMG_5278
A year ago I never would have dreamed of making a rice bowl.

Dear Anonymous,

Dear Anonymous,

Please consider this as a formal request calling for your resignation as supervisor of this mind and body.
Whilst your efforts to maintain a strong and resilient work ethic have been appreciated, it has become apparent that you have failed to manage the responsibilities expected in your position, and have been deemed unfit to fulfil the necessary requirements to govern this organism.
Any further promises you make henceforth may be considered but will be subject to suspicion.

You have failed to show that being thin will solve everything.
It is clear that your aim to be thin, and thinner still, is not only detrimental to physical functioning, but is also fundamentally flawed in it’s intentions.
You promised being thin would fill the gap between this body and it’s previous tenant. You promised making it smaller and sharper would result in the restoration of Ellie to herself. Thus far, it has only pushed her into estrangement.

Being thin has not made this body strong.
Being thin has not bought me a sense of belonging.
Being thin has not cleansed me of shame, and of shameful memories.
Being thin has not purged me of the memory of unwanted sexual advances and attention.
Being thin has not eased the anxiety.
Being thin has not made me less sensitive to hurtful comments and behaviour. It has not made me untouchable. It has not made me happy. 
Being thin has only made living a fight for survival.

The pursuit of “thin perfection” has been documented in a diary I have kept throughout the last two years.
Through this I can mark the steady alienation of Ellie, and my descent into Anorexia. It isn’t an easy read.
All this time, I have been tracking Anonymous’ rise to power.
I am disgusted and angry at my own demise.
“Weak.”

You did not lift the burden of worry and discomfort by making it thin.
You bullied me into submission and took away Ellie.
You took advantage of Ellie’s already frail sense of self worth. She valued herself based on outside factors that she had no control over.

You denied me food but fed me lies.
The false and twisted power of self starvation.

Despite the compromised position you have put her in, Ellie has expressed the desire to be reunited with her body and mind.
Ellie has stressed that she is worth more than her body.
Should her application and progress through the recovery process be successful, there is promise for the future.

image1-2
I am trying to do something scary each day: this green juice was definitely one of my finest moments!
Ellie knows there is so much to live for.
Ellie knows if she stops wearing masks, people won’t take her at face value.
Ellie knows that she cannot control what other’s do, but she can control how she reacts.
Ellie will fight for this body and will fight for her mind.
Contrary to your lies, Anonymous.

My friends, family, and the response I get from this blog is pulling me out of Anorexia.
From both myself and Ellie: thank you.

I have been terrorised into thinking of food as a luxury.
Ellie knows that nourishment is a sign of self love, and with every bite she is acknowledging herself. With every bite, she is accepting herself.
Anonymous, no wonder you’re screaming so loud.

Aren’t you getting as tired as I am?

Regards,
An Angry Anorexic.