Time is brewing up something spectacular.
At least, that’s how university should taste in the end. When the admin has fermented and the reactions started, and when the inevitable finally hardens into a solid reality. Only then will I taste it. The recipe I’ve been working on for over two years: a uni, a flat, a fantasy, a future.
If Ellie has this right, it will be delicious.
Everything is simmering along nicely. I’ve found a flat not far from campus; sorted transport cards and even ordered my course books. I’ve bought a cute academic diary that I’ve already filled with lists:
I threw in a dinner party for good measure: just a pinch of fun to season this interim period. As if I didn’t have enough to do without moulding falafel into identical little balls, blitzing hummus into cream and smashing avocados as if they were anorexia herself. This set of jobs, though, was a pleasure to work through. I’m Anonymous to many of my friends, so it really was wonderful to spend some time with them.
I haven’t laughed that hard in years.
A university branded pen quivers in my hand as I write. It’s threatening to kick off, to scrawl and spiral off on a tangent somewhere. To circle round and round the jobs that cannot be done yet, to doodle in the margins of why I’m really going. To outline my weight graph, or perhaps just scribble all over it.
At home, flyers clog up the postbox and touts have wormed their way into my inbox. “The Greatest Fresher’s Week of my life” blares ahead, just down the path I’ll be careful to avoid. I’d rather keep a low profile, to be Anonymous in a crowd of hurling 18-year olds.
My phone has added another dimension to the build up.
Oh, the symphony of desperation: the cry of estate agents to please, do come and view this apartment. A din of nervous freshers, and the sinister buzz every time something changes on student finance.
I’m buried in paperwork securing one flat, but still the estate agents call. Spam is the mating ritual of a struggling agent failing to match person to property. I’ve been crowded in urgency: but perhaps that’s why I’m flourishing. This: the nourishment of purpose, however many routes it ventures down.
But the volume alone is anxiety inducing.
Everything’s boiled over a couple of times. The panic suddenly rises and teeters over the brim, and then the tears stream down. Bubbling clots leak into the present and burn gaping black holes into the future. I freeze, and the whole idea of independence becomes an unmoving picture, stuck in wishful thinking.
The anxiety fizzles out violently, sparks flying in my eyes and head blotting over all black and blue. The stakes are so high, I just don’t know where to begin in containing it when a series of harmful reactions are triggered. The worry just gets everywhere, all my prospects soaked in doom.
Anonymous admitted that taking on a part time job at Waitrose was a mistake only hours into her first shift.
Whilst Ellie struggled to weigh up how heavy the hours would sit against her work, Anonymous was fighting with the chair. The checkout exhausted my cheek-muscles and frazzled my brain, but the seat invalidated any sense of tiredness in Anorexia’s eyes. That anxiety triggered an episode of gut-wrenching panic, and an entire day was lost in regret.
I question whether I can afford to sacrifice the time or head-space to such an anxiety. It may just be one thing too many. When everything has started, I couldn’t risk my anxiety brimming over and burning out all over everything else.
Aside from fixing some accommodation, I’ve also examined the work I’ll have on my course.
An obese reading list dragged my attention down to the base layer of fear upon which Anonymous prowls. The amount of work I’m going to have will render her allotted ‘sitting’ time useless. The call for hours spent stuck at a desk, with legs motionless and growing fat on time. If only it were as easy as making Ellie swallow a few pages of a book, and the letting her do the rest.
If only her interest were enough to shut Anonymous out whilst she works. It may not manage that, but it certainly gives her the will to try. I intend to take the war of words off the page, and stuff it into the very back of my mind.
I’ve also attended part of a “mature learner”’s Welcome Day – because that is what I am now. Stunted by anorexia so early in my academic career, I’ve just about to managed to catch up with the students several years younger than myself. When I received an invitation to join the Mature Learner’s society, I let out a breath I hadn’t realised I’d been holding. That there will be a community for me, Anonymous old me, is a comfort.
The Welcome Day itself was a challenge that dented Ellie’s confidence but bulked out her determination to try harder next time. I persuaded Anonymous to stay for one lecture and some mingling, but confess that she won me over after that, and slowly extracted me from being made to sit any longer.
It wasn’t just the sitting that was difficult, it was the faces. A room full of faces twisted into unnatural expressions of interest. Smiles plastered over snarls and nerves. Then the blank ones, the warm ones, the ones that secreted a certain air of respect. An unreadable score to which I had no idea to react. Neither Ellie nor Anonymous seemed appropriate, and yet I had to carry them in on my back. It occurred to me then how damaged my social skills have been by anorexia, and how I still have to fight to salvage what is left. There is work to be done.
I’m going to try and leave Anonymous behind when I go to uni. I have no wish to take her into my lectures or seminars; into the cafe, the fresher’s fair and certainly not anywhere where she’ll introduce herself ahead of me.
But how could I not take her there? How, when she shields her hands around my mouth, eats words off my tongue and steals this student sinto a small, estranged self? How will I explain my behaviour, if not confessing to never having owned it in the first place?
Leaving lectures and jiggling under the desk. Eating at 1 but not at 1:04. The anger, the tears, the exhaustion. As these are not mine, why should I take the credit for all the Anonymous happenings? Shape the semester like a crop circle. A warning: will you make it through the year. This is already an unrealistic endeavour. I’ve had meetings with the finance and administration team about how they can help an anorexic through her studies. The most helpful thing, really, would be to let her stew awhile, and see how she turns out.
I’ve let it all stew.
Occasionally prodding it, checking my weight (which is creeping up, I might add), and feeling around for some sense of where Ellie is in all this.
As I’m swinging from one thought to the next; through the excitement, dread and doom, I drop things. I drop sight of why and the smell of what. The when and where scream angrily as they drown under uncertainty. Time slops. I’m washed into a crisis, and then have to face it. I have to face myself, and remind me why I’m doing this.
Because it is spectacular. Whatever happens, the future promises to be quite a spectacle.
I couldn’t begin my schema therapy this week, because I self-harmed and allegedly gave myself concussion.
There it is, in black and white.
But yellow. Those tears dripping down a sweat-waxed face. I melted into the wall, the burning scene dipped into a glittering haze.
Green: a sick spiral, stomach gripping on for dear life. And lighter we spun, round and round.
Then white. The whole episode swept away in glitter. Swept away, another spec of dust knocked into place.
The light died, and the colours dimmed. The noise faltered for only a moment, the trigger retreated as if blinded.
Then it all began again, but I could grasp only the fragments of the scene before me. Whatever that may have been. I just don’t know.
The concussion disappeared. The bruise did not.
The bruising itself was small, and easily hidden under a generous layer of foundation. The grey tinge complimented the circles under my eyes. Anonymous fits that person, she’s just a bit peaky. If only it would fade. This ghostly smudge just won’t budge.
And time just didn’t heal over. It left me exposed to the week ahead: and to the
I walked into the clinic in pieces.
The ones from yesterday, the day before, and before that. Bits broken off the last few days by furious mood swings and leaps of doubt into disaster. They had rattled in the back seat of my car menacingly, making the drive to the hospital almost unbearable. The red traffic lights were so sharp, the roar of the engines muted by my own mechanical cognitions. I’m running out of fuel.
Then the questions. The perfect marks of inquisition softening sentences round the edges. How enticing, how tempting to hand all these pieces over to my doctor. But where would I start? How do I begin to describe the disorder caused by my anorexic eruptions?
The food? Holding steady.
Mood? Not mine to say.
The colour of my behaviour. Oh, doctor, it still sparkles white in places. No, no sickness, not since that day. Yes the dizziness was only momentary. No, no I can’t have. This won’t have been concussion.
My state spread out and organised: you are not in control.
They allowed time for this. Six months in fact: there is no rush nor reason why everything must begin now, why time must go by in order.
This week, I will begin again. Embrace the fresh start, splash it all over like cold water.
Then Anonymous starts.
She jumps the gun and casts my recovery in the firing line, be it on my plate or in my running shoes. Anorexia has leapt out of the Cambridge bustle and dived into perceived inactivity, and it has really start to hurt. So much so, that I’ve been itching. I’ve been to the gym, just for a short release. Then the bite comes back harder, this time smarting with guilt.
Guilt is a mislead care. And I care for my recovery, but also my personality. I am not a dishonest person, yet I’ve been made to lie about those times I’ve smuggled exercise in.
My nurse said I could try some gentle swimming or weights, only if I ate a bit more and only when I wanted too. She has told me to exercise more caution than muscular strength. To not go crazy, to not over do it.
But of course, anorexia had a false start, and got to exercise first. She lied.
The delay to starting therapy is one of a number of false starts I’ve encountered this week.
Those hopes and plans I had lined up on the horizon have melted, one by one. They are slumped and deflated against the sinister glare of another receding day.
It is taking all the strength Ellie has in her to just grit her teeth and swallow. She chews through every setback: modules, university, therapy, another glorious mood swing into the dark. I can’t quite say how I’ve managed to get a grip on my floundering hopelessness, but today I really do feel I’ve got to get a hold of everything thats happening.
I’ll hold tight, and begin again.
Perhaps that begins with this struggle. There are days when reality beckons me out of my own skin. I step away from myself and watch it crouch over the day’s calorie calculations, and really wonder what would become of it if it could be something other than anorexic. I’ve a vague idea of what I’d like, and am moulding my future.
I start university in a few weeks, and am already immersing myself in subject reading. I begin my new job at Waitrose in two weeks. And I will finally start to unknot anorexia this week as I begin schema therapy. For real this time.
Every waxing day is an opportunity that I too often let anxiety ruin. We’re chewing through the calendar of new starts. Every day is refreshed by the night, and it begins again. It all just starts over itself, as if yesterday’s life were just another false start. Aren’t we lucky to have so many? Ellie, we must really make the most of them.
It can all start, and I will start again.
I’ve a better week lined up this week. It should keep my anxiety in order, and so the days may pass by with the clouds.
And then, the storm will begin again.
The storm has passed, and Anonymous has returned home. I unpacked myself, and tried to cram it all into a bottle.
As I began pulling six weeks of highs and lows out of my bag, I staked out the place. The obvious holes that had been left in my absence were inviting: even the shadowy ones anorexia lurked in. I could see where I was meant to put everything back: my meal plan, my exercise, my self. Home was the stage on which I had performed the spectacle of recovery and anorexia alike: and not one thing had changed. The furniture was still, the silence untouched. Our roses were still in bloom.
It was I – us -who had changed. We just didn’t fit: Anorexia had gotten too big, Ellie too jumpy, and I was 0.2kg too heavy. Anonymous was alarmed by the love in the place, as if she were being tricked into letting me venture out of control.
Since being home, I’ve been trying to squash myself back into the person I was before I left. The one who could tolerate the odd slam of a door, who could manage painful periods of food smells. It is a struggle, it is hard work. It is ugly and writhing and shameful. So I put it in a bottle, and tried to contain it. My favourite hiding place is deep within myself. How easy it is for Anonymous to reach for it and hurl the contents all around the house.
It has become her defence when she feels threatened: and at home, threatened she is.
Leaving turned out to be easy.
I had anticipated a fight from Anonymous, some kind of resistance. Yet I felt nothing but relief in the fun few hours throwing everything I had left into some bags. I traveled light, high on the excitement of going home, and in anticipation of the hugs to be had.
I left behind a feeling: one that fit me so well I’m worried I’ll never find one like it. It was a warm and snug sensation of doing well. I did very, very well. Pride was too big to fit in my bottle, but too weak to survive the anorexic elements that blew through in the following days.
A lot has happened since arriving home, and I’ve been trying to cram most of it into this bottle.
Ellie would have been happy catching up with her parents and dog. Anorexia, of course, finds no punishment here but for herself, so I’ve been largely denied the pleasure.
Anonymous had planned to starve off boredom, and had thankfully fixed up a few appointments here and there to bulk out my empty diary. Tearing her from the feast of activity she had in Cambridge and installing her safely back home was always going to be tricky: dangerous almost. A job interview, coffees, dog walks. Sighing trees and clicking insects.
Then there are the tougher chunks: the bits of life I couldn’t swallow, and have now been stored in the bottle.
Ellie has been installed on her meal plan she followed prior to her trip.
Removing the extra calories she fed me in Cambridge to fuel the bike rides and night shifts was relatively painless. I do not miss the sugary rush before having an extra date or handful of nuts. Only the power that came with it: that is the real drug.
My nurse argues I should have left it in, that I need to. But I agree with Anonymous: at home, it is too much. I take up so much space and energy already, what good will come from fuelling a brain that never ceases to spill poison all around the house?
Some adjustments have been harder. The worries I left behind ripened in my absence, and have now moulded over with unfamiliarity.
I returned to clinics with a shock. This week, I will begin the therapy recommended following a few months of psychologist assessments. It is called “schema therapy” (don’t google it.) The treatment plan is set out over 6 months, featuring a full life review, photographic analysis and in depth discussion. As the approach is of a “do no harm” nature, it promises not to inflict any emotions that are not already there. The doctors also said they’d stop the treatment if it became too painful. They’ve also told me it will be easier to undertake if I continue to gain weight. The kcal will build bridges between my cognitions, and provide extra momentum when reawakening parts of y brain that have allegedly drifted into dormancy. Needless to say, I’m terrified.
I’m terrified I’ll get upset, and so spread upset.
I’m terrified I’ll get angry, and so spread hate.
I’m terrified the therapy will break me into pieces and haphazardly stitch together a person who is fine being fat or lazy or un-Anonymous.
I’m terrified of naming and shaming myself.
I’m scared the parts of me I abandoned will be even more angry when I rediscover them, and my condition deteriorates out of Anonymous’ control and into something more final.
The therapy will expose me to my own toxins which I will no doubt spread around the people I love.
In other news, I was pleased to be back. There is something innately comforting about the bright lights, the stiff-backed chairs, the unblinking harshness of a hospital setting. It reminds me why I’m here, now, writing this. Ellie, we’re trying to recover, remember? And it helps me to think about why.
My appointments really helped. My nurse examined the contents of my brimming bottle, and began to help me scrape out some anxiety. Once anticipation has been shed, the worries themselves turn out to be quite small. My brother did turn down his music when asked. I was allowed to eat on my own. Anger does disguise concern. So many small things are allowed to spawn out of control when they’re bottled up and hidden away.
I’ve been anxious everyday, on way or another.
All the little triggers have sharpened. The ones I could run away from by going away have become more threatening. Dog food is more potent, the TV downstairs more moronic and distracting, the is air humid with an ever building storm.
This bottle is delicate, and it cannot hold everything. In the first seven days I been home, anxiety cited above average tremors and triggers. Things were shaken up by the arrival of my brother, good news and bad news, old news, fake news – the tirade of angry circumstance chipping away at the lining of my bottle.
So much happened so quickly. My brother, seeing grandparents, cancelling on friends and failing the rest; squeezing in my meals between the guilt. Information about the weeks ahead dumped on me too fast, and I erupted. My bottle kept breaking. I still don’t know how to fix it, mainly because I can’t see what is broken.
Perhaps it is the addition of guilt; perhaps it is a figment too real to stay writhing beneath my skin.
Sometimes I can contain it all.
Almost too well, and the bottle gets too heavy. It drags me down. Low I sink, lower still. The fermentation of thought weighs heavy.
Bottling everything up is not a good coping mechanism, but it’s the only way I know how. I’ve been doing it for years.
One thing that simply won’t stay in my bottle is fear. Not of anorexic things: not of the noise or smell or small irritations. But of myself.
My moods have been weaponised in alarm. They leap away from the here and now, swinging between Ellie and Anonymous, up and down, round, round, down. There is no trigger, there are no warning signs. It just happens, all the time. I’ve never been like this before, and I’m terrified.
Not I, nor Ellie, nor Anonymous can control them. I’m scared I’m going to lose the people around me, that they will be overwhelmed by these nebular cries.
These feelings are feral: wild. An untamed and angry beast stalking me in my own home.
They aren’t mine: I promise this isn’t me.
Despite the weeks passing, I’ve yet to put Anonymous in her place.
She sticks to me, a foul-mouthed deterrent to keep everyone away. Slowly though, I’ve found means to at least restore her to a lower level.
Chewing through the thick fear of feeding my dog, of the crumbs, of the clatter of other people in the house; working on through the noise and the smells and the endless wait for something to go wrong. Only by repeating and repeating the rituals of living around healthy people, am I only just able to sometimes swallow Anorexia’s outbursts. Instead, it can rage just beneath my skin. I’d rather keep the anger and hate all to myself: my family don’t deserve it.
Just because I’m struggling, doesn’t mean I’m losing.
I’ve kept my weight around 50kg by inclining Anonymous away from food and towards more solid means of help, like a wall. Or a fist.
I am back home, and brimming over.
Good and bad feelings, and the uncertain ones. Gratefulness, relief, anger, the low. A cocktail of confusion, overwhelmed by more love than I deserve. I’m still unpacking them all, and working through each one, each day.
I know what I have to do now. I know what recovery expects of me.
Whilst I’m lucky enough to be in this supportive environment, I’m willing to believe Ellie when she says that everything is fine.
Because it is. And if it isn’t, it isn’t me.
Once again, I have neglected to write about today, because I’ve been too busy making a meal of last week on my blog. It is now published, and so I can draw a line under what was a very anxious week. Lines can always be blurred, but the only thing I want to take with me into the next is my desire to do better. This week, I want to do well.
I’m sure I’ve had plenty of positive and constructive thoughts on the day, but alas: writing of the last tore me from the present, and I haven’t really been in the moment at all. I have been chewing it all over, rewriting my misery again and again. And now what of today? Where am I, here and now?
So here I shall commence: in the here and now, at my desk and scribbling fast so I can get to bed.
When I got myself to here today, it actually turned out to be really nice. Nice is not a word I use liberally, but it’s quaint and inoffensive qualities render it perfect for this description.
Anonymous dreads her days off. The vast hours of time moving at a glacial pace through the day serve as a tribute to all I have lost by wishing it away. Boredom lurks too close by, and preys on me as I drift.
Today was a day off: ie, a day in my control. This is how I want to think of it, for it is a day that belongs entirely to me. Aren’t you lucky, Ellie?
Ellie decided to do something brave with her precious morning. She took a gamble with how much exercise there’d be in it for her, and agreed to meet a friend from work for coffee. I’ve been trying to keep the extent of Anonymous’ power over me away from her, so glued my tongue into my cheek when she told me she knew of the “perfect” coffeehouse. Two unknowns found in the plan.
I’m so glad I went. Cancellation was a tempting escape route away from the possibility for sitting for longer than usual, dodgy waiters who lie about the fat content of their milk. “Of course this is skinny milk,” they say. I have to drip drops off my spoon, holding it up against the light. Only skinny milk is watery enough to see through. The latte itself came out bigger than I expected. Prickling panic subsided after Ellie reminded me that we’d normally be having a snack too, not just a latte. So it was alright: not ideal, for Anonymous had a slim plan, but alright.
I went because Ellie enjoys spending time with people. She likes feeling together, especially when she’s able to be with herself too.
The activity anxiety stung less as soon as we stood up to go for a walk down the river. The air was cooler today, and I know my body had to use some extra calories to wrap my jacket around my shoulders tightly. I knew the walk was coming, and I wasn’t having to hold off too long because she drank her coffee at about the same pace as me. And so it came to be that Ellie could enjoy the time, the place, the company. We had a very gentle chat on the nourishing pics of literature, family, jobs and gossip. I think I feel better for just having some normal human contact with someone. Working relationships are propped up and unnatural.
Don’t get me wrong: I do like being alone. Most of the time actually, it suits Ellie and Anonymous quite well. One can think, and one can write. Sometimes though, three is a crowd. It gets stuffy stuck in this head.
Mum and Dad left for their holiday today. Not that it makes much difference to me literally: they’re at home and I’m up here. But the safety net of their phone calls has been moved quite far out of reach, out of range and signal. Which is fine. It may do me good to try fighting Anonymous without running crying to someone afterwards. It will do them good too.
I just hope they didn’t leave worrying about me. I’m so selfish: I ended up calling them again last night out of desperation. They didn’t need to hear their daughter being eaten alive by her illness, it is cruel. I just couldn’t keep her in.
The sun came out, and time took it’s course on the day. The afternoon seems to have been trodden into the ground by distraction. I’ve kept busy by prepping tomorrow’s food, finally found a Waitrose, (don’t laugh, where my food comes from it very important to me. I’m anorexic, not just a Surrey girl), and writing this feeling quite pleased I published my blog earlier.
Achieving sends me on a high, and somehow it is just easier to believe that it is all going to be ok. Even if the achievement is something as small as willing something good to happen, amongst all the bad.
Out of a hard week last week, I was able to produce a blog post. Something to write about.
This week, I’d like to cope. That would be a novel idea: plenty to get my teeth into there.
Day 16: Friday 13th, of course.
I just screamed in public.
I will never be allowed back into Clare’s Scholars gardens again, not if any of the tourists reported the strange sight that was myself. Cross-legged and cowering beneath the dahlias, glaring at the glum gardener as he continued to mow the lawn over the spot I had been sitting near not a few moments ago, but had to absent on grounds of rising noise anxiety.
I had taken my snack to the nice corner, the one far away from other people, and so far away from triggers. Just as I spilt my tea over breakfast; as the recycling man clattered as I was taking my first mouthful of porridge; as the traffic lights turned red – it was never to be smooth. I ran from the swarming tourists on the street, and hid in the garden.
Then they all found me. The gardeners emerged from the hedges clutching machines and clippers. Punts drifted to this side of the river, screeching children and screaming babies making their air sodden with alarm. Greasy teenagers lumbered along to the beat of their music that they had to be playing out of speakers: because clearly the revered Cambridge ambience and birdsong wasn’t upbeat enough for them. Noise rose in the air and collected together with the swarm of other triggers following me: exhaustion, fear to eat but fear of not eating, loneliness, and dread of the long shift ahead of me later on.
I so wanted my snack. To curl my tongue around it and savour this: my prize for getting to 11:30. I was so hungry. There was so much noise in my head, and suddenly too much outside it.
And so yes, I screamed.
My anxiety jumped when I arrived in town. I locked my bike up after a bemusing journey in (more on that to follow), and then I was swept up in the clamour and sweat of thousands of people teeming down King’s parade.
Up to the click of my lock, I was doing ok. The morning, in normal circumstances, would have been written off as “pointless”. Turning up to a yoga class in a strange city, anticipating an hour or so of the much missed therapy it gives me at home, had opened the day up to chance. I knew there was a chance the class wouldn’t be as good as my one back at home, I was prepared for that.
What I was not prepared for was to rock up to the studio and discover it was nestled behind a pungent vegan restaurant. Even at 9 in the morning, the stench of seared aubergine soaked the air in oily odours. The floor in reception was thudding from the heavy metal music playing in the kitchen next door. In the yoga studio: a place of peace and contemplation, was tarnished by the screaming vocals tortured by squealing guitar chords. Then the teacher turned up – let me not even start on that. To push up into downwards dog and call it anusara, nose blocked and ears ringing, is something contradictory to the famed intelligence of this city.
I left after nine minutes, my head feeling noisier and shakier than I had when I walked in. Not quite the point, some would agree. No matter. I have my bicycle, so I’m not too worried about missing out on the muscle tone leant by my weekly yoga at home. It just would have been nice to do something familiar, something comforting.
Despite the disappointment, I was a little amused. What would have been a waste of time at home I can simply write off as “futile”. In which case, I have achieved what every explorer aims to probe: pointlessness. For only when we discover something is completely useless do we call it useless, and make it a boundary. This is how we build up our knowledge of the place we are in. I will not attempt to go to yoga here again.
Then I got to town, and to all the people. And now here I am, screaming.
Let me move now along to here: my evening shift.
I already hate this.
Tonight we are throwing the student’s graduation party, and we’ve already had dramas erupt like champagne corks. My worries are threatening to do the same, but with arguably less energy. I don’t have enough to spare. I certainly don’t have enough to get me through the next few days: ten hour shifts back-to-back, with two night shifts thrown in for good measure.
I’m frightened my body will fail.
I’m frightened my mind will burn out.
I’m frightened the cold night air will help me catch a cold.
I’m frightened I’m not going to have enough to time to prepare all my food.
I’m frightened because I don’t want to eat this.
I’m frightened because I have to.
How else will I achieve the week?
Day 17: Shake and rattle
Ok I’m struggling.
Someone is in the flat next door playing jazz. Let me clarify: they are playing smooth jazz from good quality speakers, and have been doing so all evening. There was an interval that coincided (miraculously) with my supper. I suspect the hot date taking place over there most likely gave their ears a break and let their mouths do some work. I’m talking about eating and talking, by the way. Anyway, it has started again. It isn’t hurting me, but it is making me anxious. Mainly because I’m convinced the sound has stressed me out too much, and now I won’t sleep.
I have a 12 our shift tomorrow and two night shifts in the days following that. Does anyone else sense I’m heading for a burnout?
Exhaustion makes me eyes lose focus sometimes. In order to not lose focus on what is on my plate, perhaps it would be useful for me to address my food and exercise in this diary. I can’t hide from it, especially not with another weigh in coming up.
Today I have been restricting, and have been duly punished for it. I’ve been feeling quite ill all day. Anonymous made me stand all the time. A day catching up with work admin was not going to serve as an excuse to sit at a desk. Instead, I volunteered to run errands and move bags. I fetched students and vigorously put paper through the shredder, flying arms and all. I sat down for 20 mins at lunch, and 10 because I needed some coffee. Why does that still feel like too much?
Tomorrow is the first of three difficult days.
Having indulged my feelings in this notebook, I think I know what I need to do to manage the coming shifts. Survivor’s instinct dictates that I draw on what I know works. So maybe what I should do is force the days to be good ones.
Against their will and the will of fate too, perhaps. But this is a more positive angle than the ones I’ve had before.
I guess for today, I can at least say that I’ve achieved an angle.
Day 18: Difficult Day 1
I’m already not enjoying this.
As I started work at 11 today, I thought it would be a good idea for me to get a coffee and have my snack beforehand. I approached the cafe stemming the cold sweat that has been breaking out since last night. 30 degree heat appears to be doing nothing for my immune system, and I think I’ve come down with a cold. My feet have been dragging somewhat because my thighs are a bit stiff. They still aren’t used to cycling, nor to disrupted sleep patterns. I have really been quite looking forward to this coffee. It has been a busy morning prepping for lunch, snacks and supper, and already getting hot out there. I’ve been wanting to fill you in.
And now here I am, feeling worried.
Perhaps it is because the cafe’s dishwasher has broken, and I now have to drink my coffee out of a paper cup. Perhaps it is because I miss my Mum and Dad, because I haven’t had a hug in weeks. Perhaps it is because whenever I go on Facebook, my newsfeed clogs up with all my happy friends embracing each other in their graduation gowns. Perhaps it is because I have such a long way to go before all that. Perhaps I do just feel a little left behind, and at the mercy of this illness.
Perhaps it is the disgust I feel for all this self-pity.
Ok Ellie, stop. You’ve forgotten to breathe again. You’ve forgotten where you are.
I didn’t check this was skinny milk. Oh no, I’ve already drunk at least half of it. I sigh: how will I think to remember this when I get on the scales tomorrow? That this one latte will have such an influence over my weight.
Stop Ellie. Try and enjoy these 15 mins you have here. Put your pen down if you like: you shouldn’t be writing if you’re only doing to prove something to Anonymous. Sip your coffee, taste your snack.
I think this is skinny milk. It looks watery enough.
1:24am: I just got home. It was actually a pleasant cycle home. The streets are less worrying when nobody else is on them.
Today actually went quite quick, which is really all I’d ever ask for. It was arrivals day for the next batch of students staying here this summer. They seem a little bit, well, cool than the last lot. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, so long as they are not too cool for rules.
In any case, the icebreakers I ran went down a treat. Nothing beats zip-zap-boing. In fact, the games were a perfect metaphor for today’s shift. I approached it thinking I’d be completely out of control. As it turns out, I didn’t have to force any fun. It all just happened.
Day 19: Difficult Day 2
I’ve just been weighed. Was not expecting that.
How exhausting it is to discover that in 5 days, gravity has grabbed every morsel of my body and yanked it up 0.8kg. How? After all these long days, these dodgy mealtimes, these restrictions – how – have I managed to regain the weight I lost last week?
It was a rather horrible experience all in all. I’ve registered as a temporary resident at a GP surgery here, and met the nurse and the scales that will be weighing me from now until the end of my time here.
Today turned out to be very different to last week, when I was shown into a GP with a pair of old fashioned scales. They ticked and creaked, and settled well below the weight I had arrived in Cambridge with, if you remember correctly. Today, I was ushered into a waiting room underground for 25 mins. The room was packed and airless, dark and with very little room to let Anonymous out to pace. I became extremely anxious and burst into tears before the nurse had come to get me.
After all that, I got on these new scales. As my weight leaped up, my jaw dropped. So did my guard. I was utterly overwhelmed by all these feelings.
49.8kg. Back to that weight I had when I arrived here three weeks ago.
How? How did I do that without realising?
How did I lose control?
Now for some logic. Only here, cupping a strong coffee and considering it all, can logic get a word in edgeways. I’m just trying to work out which of these feelings are mine.
First came horror. It still sort of lingers, like a bad aftertaste.
Then I remember logic. Logic reminds me that these were a different pair of scales. These were scales of superior stuff to those I had relied on last week, for they were calibrated and electronic. These scales didn’t click menacingly upon receiving my weight. Last week may have been a lie altogether: could it be that all this worry about gaining weight so quickly could have been the work of misinformation?
Logic also reminds me how focused I have been on my plate this week. I swallowed the shame of bringing in so much food to work, and just did. I ate everything prescribed to me and counted every last calorie.
And the exercise? Perhaps there is something in what my doctor’s say: exercise only does so much to weight. It’s what you eat that counts.
Let it not be forgotten, too, that it is 11:30, and a hot day. I’ve been drinking lots of water and haven’t managed to have the ceremonial poo prior to being weighed.
If Anonymous lets me believe my eyes, and lets me think that this is nothing but a sign that I’ve been good, then that’s another matter.
If what has happened is true, some would interpret it as a good omen, not a threat.
It shows that despite ‘everything’, I can still let go of Anonymous.
‘Everything’ embellishes life here: cycling, sun, snacks, books, work, work, work, the energy to work. ‘Everything’ can serve as an excuse or an explanation for what I did with my food. Whatever happens to ‘Everything’ though, this weight shows I can do it.
Ellie, you can be trusted.
Imagine what you could achieve if it transpires you can maintain your weight alone?
Today has just been an invitation to hate myself.
I am so stupid and a burden and utterly utterly useless.
Ellie, you did wrong. And now we’re crying outside the gate of the College for all the world to see. I think that tourist even just took a photograph.
I’m feeling useless and stupid, which is what I am.
If I had been educated at Oxbridge like everyone else here, maybe I would have a few more brain cells to use. Maybe I would have realised how to do my job properly.
Any other student counsellor here would have known how to run detention. Only I appear to be thick enough to think that holding students in solitary confinement for 3 hours in the midday heat is punishment enough for turning up late for registration.
Indeed, I felt I was being punished too. Anonymous hates being left with her own thoughts. I’ve got cramp from pacing round and round in circles; for that is all the exercise I could do in there. It was maddening.
Perhaps I’m just not a punishing person. When one of the students put his head on his book and shut his eyes, I didn’t think twice.
Only now I’ve been chastised for not forcing the students to do their homework during detention, do I realise how stupid I’ve been.
So stupid, that everyone agrees. It must be the talk of the staffroom: Ellie on detention duty, and she can’t even manage that properly. Utterly laughable, it I wasn’t affiliated with her name.
The worst part is is it is supper time, and I’m too worked up to eat. I’ll surely throw it all up in a frenzy. I can’t force any more anxiety into this body.
It won’t hold, and certainly won’t hold over the course of the coming difficult days.
(Disclaimer: I did eat supper, eventually. I really needed it. Crying is tiring.)
Day 20: Third and Final Difficult Day
Yes I may have overreacted a tad yesterday. I took criticism too personally, only because my professionalism was worn thin from tiredness. I know I say it a lot, but exhaustion is very real to me at the moment.
I’ve been watching threats come and go today, and have a theory regarding why they scare me so. They just get too close, too real.
My mind’s eye catches them out and Anonymous drags them in. She turns them over and over, examining them closely. She studies them to know them better, thus making it possible to anticipate their next move.
I watch people walk into a house and know the music will start soon. I see the binmen coming over the hill and know the sound will stay with me long enough to ruin the peace I need to eat.
And now here, back in Fitzbillies’ coffee shop. Two no doubt terribly important and clever people having a loud and egotistic conversation in an otherwise gentle environment. Why do their decibels make me so angry?
Is it because I came here to calm down; are they stopping me? Or are you letting them?
This is me re-angling myself into the here and now. Almost forcing ‘ok’ onto my tongue.
Stop. You’ve forgotten to breathe again.
How are you doing Ellie?
Well, I’m looking forward to my day off tomorrow. That’s after tonight’s night shift of course.
I’m also looking forward to buying myself some flowers later.
And writing in my positivity diary that despite ‘everything’ occurring in this cafe, I’ve managed to move my mind out of harms way. I’m doing ok today, like I said I would do.
I’m so looking forward to tomorrow. Mainly because I’ll be in control of my day and my food. Presuming of course that I make the choice to do so.
I hope I have a good day.
Day 21: Long awaited day off.
Tiredness is pretty. It blurs sharpness into a creamy lather, into which I have been sinking today. On my bike, shopping, wandering the meadows. Today, I have just leant back into tiredness, and let it drift on through.
I haven’t acted upon it as others can: I won’t sleep in or rest of anything. But Anonymous will grant it some acknowledgement at least.
All my work colleagues are in the cinema watching the Incredibles. As I write, they are probably a couple of minutes into the adverts.
I would love to have gone. I was invited of course, and had even allowed myself to get excited. Having been unable to take part in any of the social events happening for staff owing to anxiety, mealtimes or exhaustion, I really thought this would be the one I’d make it to. It transpired that they wouldn’t be attending an evening viewing like I thought. Instead, they are in the 12pm one.
I can’t sit for 185mins in a cinema, in the middle of the day. Anonymous won’t let me.
I told them I wasn’t feeling well when I cancelled, which I suppose is sort of true.
Stop writing now Ellie. You don’t have to write because Anonymous says so.
You’ve got nothing to prove to anyone.
But this week, I can’t help but think I’ve proved something to myself. I’ve don’t well. Because I said I would do.
This grey and drizzly snacktime, I have had to do something a little different.
The first dreary cloud clogged up the skyline last night, and now all that sun has been ruined. I had to slip back into that person who arrived here two weeks ago, clutching a handful of useless ideas of where she might go when she needed her snack.
This is what I came up with. Sat at a bright table by the window, I’m sipping a semi-skimmed latte and bending over this notebook. Semi-skimmed not necessarily by choice, but because that seems to be independant-coffeehouse-speak for ‘skinny’. I think not, but after last night and this morning, I’m actually too exhausted to care. Anonymous can quibble over the handful of extra calories floating in this cup, but I’m having no part in it. Now, this here is a strange occurrence not just because of the coffee quandry. Perhaps you can hear it between the lines, perhaps you can sense the clamour shaking words off the page and out of my head. I walked into this noisy – nay, bubbly – coffeehouse, and felt anxiety turn me right around and march straight out. Grinding beans and steaming pumps, gurgles and burbles and babbling gabbling. It was a clamour to turn any anorexic’s empty stomach.
It was already 11:30, and I was already running late for my snacktime. Anonymous considered our options, and drank the room. We were in Fitzbillies: an iconic Cambridge coffeehouse, that must so happens to be a little too far away from anywhere else. When visiting, everyone “has” to try Fitzbillies. Coming here in the first place had been nothing more than an effort to be more adventurous. A table by the window watched me weigh up my options. Over ten people passed through, ordered, sat themselves down, but still that table remained empty. It was waiting for me to be brave, and so I stayed.
The food here looks delicious. I wonder if I’ll ever try one of those granola bars. No, not today. I’m a bit busy with my latte, see. Look how creamy it is! The milk is like velvet. I wonder how many calories it costs to be so fluffy? No, I haven’t googled it yet. I don’t think I should really, do you?
The noise in here is dying down a bit, and the coffee rush will be over in a matter of seconds. I can hear myself think again, and now I can’t avoid thinking of it any longer.
It is weigh day. I finally patched together a plan to get weighed each week, as requested by my clinic whilst I’m here. After failing miserably to get anywhere with the on-site-fabled-possibly-non-existent who has still yet to materialise, I snatch control before my nerves wrapped their fraying ends around this trigger, and registered as a temporary patient in a local surgery.
The scales have been falling all week. The needle click click clicked, and pulled gravity to my feet. The number was smaller than the number I arrived with, that is all I wish to say. Anonymous cast sweeping assurances that these were foreign scales, that I left my watch on, that I had cycled in, failed to poop, failed to get an appointment at 10 o’clock and instead had to attend at the farcical time of 9:35. So many units to build up to get an accurate weight, but this is the one I have. It is the number that I will work with and negotiate into next week.
I knew I was losing weight, I just didn’t know what that meant.
The whole country has caught football fever, myself included. I seem to be the only one in any discomfort; everyone else rides out the spasms of noise without blinking an eye. Anticipation assaults us all and yet I am the only one to fall.
You’re reading this and feeling revolted, I can taste it. How has anorexia managed to starve me of even the tiniest inkling of patriotism, any sense of fun? Allow me to explain.
No, listen. Actually listen: the explanation is in the air, mingling with all those gasps and cries and endless chanting. The noise is actually excruciating. It cuts right through me, and shakes Anxiety awake just when I’ve worked so hard putting it to bed.
There is still 26mins until the game starts, but the signs of a noisy onslaught have already been sighted.
Seven people clutching beer have just been appeared in next door’s window. Cars clot the drive; the shelves of every off-licence in Cambridge are bare, skeletal. And this: the sinister silence hanging over England, like bait.
I did not manage too well when England beat Sweden last week. I covered my ears and tried not to breathe in the sound. Still something must have leaked in, for an hour or so later I was curled up in my cupboard and howling for it to all be over: please, please let me sleep.
It is all too easy to brush Ellie’s words of comfort to one side: it’s a Wednesday, people need to be up in the morning for work; next door’s flat is tiny, they’d have to decant to a pub for an actual party. As a former student, I can say with certainty that no amount of limited space nor commitments will hold back a rush of alcohol infused desire to have fun. Oh, I wish I could still have fun.
My plan might work. I shall wade through each minute as if time weren’t stuck. There is a small chance the game itself will contain the masses. People will be glued to the screen, and noise will only be unstuck and lodged into my side if something actually happens. This should buy me enough to time to make supper, and eat it battling only Anonymous, not Anxiety as well.
I shall assess the situation when the familiar cries at the final whistle blows. If the decibels ring with alarm, I could put on a film. Not ideal, for I never watch TV in the evenings. Anonymous considers it a waste of time, but in this case she may just have to swallow it. Hard lumps of bad scriptwriting is easier to digest than what I daresay will await otherwise.
In the very likely event it reaches my bedtime and everyone is still at it, I’ll sink. An endless night of worry and exhaustion awaits, pressing in like treacle. Already noise is all over the neighbourhood, like a rash.
One wonders why I don’t just watch the game myself. Don’t get me wrong, I really want to. But it wouldn’t feel right, not all by myself.
Anxiety’s tolerance of noise has not made much progress at all really. If anything, it feels like it just drags me backwards.
Oh, I must just mention hummus-gate has been solved. Prior to my journey up here two weeks ago, I spent a happy afternoon in the kitchen making batches of my Anonymous approved hummus. I froze it in batches, and tried the first defrosted one today. As if it were made fresh, if a little stiff. Every now and then, it would do me good to defrost a little faith.
The Day before Yesterday
I can see my pillow from here, and it is calling. Oh my dear, I have been thinking of you since I left you this morning. All through the day, every word and mouthful, I was just thinking of your plump embrace, your lumbar support. How I would sink into you, and ride a dream out until dawn.
I am so excited to get into bed, so forgive me for keeping this brief.
Having just cycled home at 1 in the morning, I don’t quite see how I plan to actually go to sleep, for the adrenaline is still pumping a little too loud. If only it had hit me earlier, when I really needed it.
The morning confronted me with a grim cloud-clotted start. After yesterday, after the horror that was yesterday, today was promising to be just as frightening. I wanted none of it. I ate my breakfast grudgingly, docking a few calories here and there to start my anorexic sedation from the start.
When going on a school trip, Anonymous has always packed Anxiety. A great bulky load I had to carry all the way to London, again. After an anxious and restricted lunch, we loaded into the cell that would take us to the Strand, straight down the M11. I didn’t make it to work before I bucked under the stress. The thought of having to sit in that bus, through all that traffic, all over again. It was a heavy prospect, and it dragged my calorie count down. By doing so, it pushed Anonymous up. The 1hour 20 mins trip on a hunger high, still flying after this morning’s panic attack.
We arrived and everything left me. Every anxious animal in me collapsed in an exhausted heap. Luckily, the students had free time until the theatre show in the evening, and so so did we. I took myself off to those quiet corners of London that I know so well, and did everything I could to expel any residual worries before the show, and before I had to put on the show of ‘responsible adult’.
I was grateful to eat my supper. I packed it that morning, complete with a picnic plate. Pretending it was completely normal to picnic in Pret.
The rest of the trip was fine. I’m good at looking after things, just not always myself.
The heat backed off today, and all this worry has left me cold. Three anxiety attacks in 24 hours: pricking thumbs of something wicked. This way, it might come.
I’m being weighed tomorrow, and I can’t wait. It has been over two weeks and I just can’t take the strain of uncertainty anymore. I care not if I’m losing weight: that much I can sense. What though, if it turns out I’ve actually gained? What would all this worry and incontinence and exhaustion mean then? Is that what recovery is?
I wish I didn’t have to stay up any longer. I wish I could be with you now, pillow. Alas it is not to be for at least half an hour. There are food diaries and positivity diaries to fill in, a plan to be made for the morning.
Ellie, have you soaked your oats for breakfast in the morning? There is much to prepare to meet another day.
02:00am: Hello, pillow. 02:03am: F*** off is there a car alarm going off. 02:30am: F*** off is it still ringing. 02:57am: Seriously. 03:07am: Why tho.
And thus our scene is set for another anxious, sleep deprived day. The perfect conditions to cultivate Anonymous.
The 12th Day away
So today has been a little bit horrific.
I had an anxiety attack on the bus, in front of all the students. Not to say any of them noticed, one hopes. I was fairly well-practised at disguising these assaults at university, and have not forgotten how to shut out my surroundings and turn it all in on myself. Cowering between the seats set a little too far forward for the cool kids to catch, stuffing a little too much of my uniform in my mouth for any of them to hear it. Wheezing engines of static, grid locked cars and thick headphones that beat sweat down everyone’s brows also helped cover for me. I was curled up in a ball, pressed in on myself and felt the heat, the traffic, the ticking clock counting the seconds I was stuck sitting there press in on me too. My phone was clutched to my ear, the desperate reassurances from Mum passing through my ears and absorbed into the anxious pit in between. This, my third phone call home in three days. If only I could stop calling Mum and Dad. I had rather thought this would give them break from me; a few weeks without their daughter ruining the good days.
I hope nobody saw me, I hope nobody heard. These feelings were so swollen, so cheap and nasty, I could have just given them away.
It was hell. Full, fiery hell. Anonymous pointed her pitchfork at my enormous bottom sat in a seat in the middle of the day. She rattled my nerves like the bars of a cell: I just wanted out. I was sitting so long, and was burning up in place of calories.
London’s roads were melting. Roads out of town a vast network of failing veins, with too many cars causing clots and tumours. Red brake likes lit the way out for over an hour. And then it was far from over: there was the great journey north. All the while taking place when Anonymous needs to be standing, moving, exercising. Yet here we were, shackled in place by a seatbelt. Hell, I tell you.
I have been negotiating all day. From the start, Anonymous had imposed traffic restrictions on my food. I was on-shift for a medic trip to a London hospital: of course I’d need to allow time to commute. I had sacrificed some food for that. But the extra time and extra traffic cost me dear calories. I hobbled home feeling disgusted at how empty and tired I felt: all I had done was take students to London and supervised their workshops on a ward. All I had done was a day’s work. Now, all I have is a shell of myself. My stomach is actually singing.
I really tried to help Anonymous survive the day. She leapt at any chance to make random trips around the hospital; she ran coffee and collected samples; replenished the syringe supply and disposed of the sharps. Even when we pulled in at 9am this morning, I let her feed me breakfast standing up. Anything to make the pain go away. War has raged all day.
And now I have to go through it all again tomorrow. I can’t face it. I’m too hungry and too worried, too frightened to eat in case the traffic comes back an tricks me into keeping those calories.
But I will do it. I have to: that’s my job. It’s part of recovery, and what I’m here for.
Oh, wait wait wait! Something good did happen today: in fact I am almost sure it is what stopped me from self-combusting on that bus.
I was published in the Times again! Yay!
(Now – journalists. They have to sit. If I want to be a writer, I will one day have to sit.)
I had another panic attack last night, halfway through 2 films I wasn’t really watching. One was being screened in the cinema, a ticket to which I had bought this morning without consulting my energy levels. At 5pm everything was empty. Even stuffing myself with supper hasn’t filled the hole, so I just stayed home, and tried to drown out the ghostly clamour of Saturday nights.
I failed. The noise got me, and Anxiety could feast.
I don’t want to write about last night. For now, let me just tell you that I am safe. I’ve eaten breakfast and my snack (a latte and energy ball, if you’re interested), and am about to tuck into lunch.
Reality is starting to get to close in Cambridge. It breathes down my neck, with condensation breaking out in an anxious sweat. Ellie needed to get out of it, fast. So we got on my bicycle and came here.
Here is where I have come to escape other people. Here is where I thought I could come and just be quiet, be alone. These are the Grantchester meadows: a great expanse of rippling grass that hugs the riverbanks. There, a pocket of willow trees leaning over the water, draping their branches to skim the surface. It is here, in the quietest, shadiest spot I could find, that I am writing to you now. I’m chewing a salmon sandwich, and watching dragonflies lick the lilypads. The light is almost blinding. What a relief to have the responsibility of foresight taken away, even if it is just until another person happens upon my seclusion and shatters my shield.
Here, I can watch the river traffic. Lumbering punts and pushy kayaks, a duck, a swan, a small boy on a SUP.
Yes, I feel safe here. I feel safe away from all that.
I’m going through the day with a fine-toothed comb, trying to find something positive to write. Today, I am pulling apart thick clumps of worry and anxiety, and pulling out microscopic good things like nits. Every now and then I get too close, and a spine of Anxiety gets lodged in my hands, which I must then carry through the rest of the day.
The novelty of being away and living independently has worn away. Exciting places and exciting prospects come away with very little resistance to anorexia. Suddenly, I can see straight through Ellie’s optimism and excitement, and see the vast but thin network of disordered thoughts. “New” has paled under scrutiny: for everything about me is just the same.
Anonymous has been given the opportunity to be everywhere. She is unsupervised, under pressure and armed with a bicycle. Just, I suppose, as I am armed with Ellie, but my weapon keeps getting distracted by the sun or the smell, or just fear.
I’m starting to worry. Now the buzz has dipped off, I can hear it. I can hear the noise. Slamming doors and calls; squeaky railway tracks; spluttering motorbikes and hoarse men asserting themselves the only way they know how. It’s everywhere. A thousand final straws to draw.
I had my first anxiety attack since arriving today, and it was horrible. I was walking through town on one of the busiest streets at lunchtime, and it just happened. Something electric passed through the crowd and sun, and suddenly it had ignited. I couldn’t see for all the stars flashing like falling scales.
I’ll never know what started it, I never do. But we can draw on records from this diary in the moments leading up to it, and build a skeleton out of fragments. I had sat in the Fellow’s Garden with my coffee, and scribbled down any excuse I could for my shaking hands.
Is it simply the unknown I face everyday? The people, the place, my fate on the scales I still haven’t got on? Or perhaps the flat. Yes, Anonymous has gotten over the glamour of having a whole kitchen to herself, and has just noticed how small the flat actually is. She’s been doing the maths: how many steps fewer are you taking by staying here, Ellie?
Or perhaps, it is exercise itself. The happiness gleaned off my handlebars feed both Ellie and Anorexia. There is no greater feeling than soaring down a gentle slope on two wheels. When this gets taken away, as it surely will in four weeks time, how will I cope then? Anonymous will be hooked, addicted. Ellie will be bereaved. I shall deny forever that my grief at not being able to cycle at home is because I’ve taken a step backwards, and dabbled with exercise again.
Or perhaps it is all of it. Perhaps I can cope with these things in batches, but not all of it. Not all at once.
There is a quote that comes to mind every time I come here. These Fellow’s gardens at Clare college, set back from the river and the rushing tide of people and places. “I like this place and could willingly waste my time in it” (As You Like It, the Bard himself). This possibly isn’t relevant to anything. But I wanted to share it here. It might give you some sense of comfort I get by retreating into one of the many College gardens.
I have been quite agitated for a few hours now. Every sound a sediment, clamour building up like sand. I pray it does not burst it’s banks. No, this anxiety is louder than noise. This anxiety is Anonymous.
I think I’ve eaten too much. I’m not sure, I might have only eaten enough to meet my meal plan, but it is more than I told myself I’d be eating today. And that makes me anxious.
Put simply, it will be a matter of 140kcal. There is no excuse, but I would like to try and explain what led me to having that snack, instead of the smaller snack I had planned.
So basically I panicked. It was a hot, sweaty day, and I had turned up for my shift at 3pm having had a full day fulfilling anorexia’s walking quota, and had a telephone appointment with my clinic. To say I was tired would be bad storytelling.
I arrived, and was hurled headlong down a list of errands I had to run before setting up for the student’s party that evening. The tasks were simple but geographically complicated. I spent two hours marching about the city, picking up props and paying for punts. And then of course, I had to turn up at the venue to “show face” for the academy lest it be thought that we expected people to do their jobs without up breathing down their necks. By 4:30pm and 30degrees, everything started to go pale. I felt something in me lift – Ellie – and she went to the nearest juice bar and ordered.
I have lived my whole life believing a small Banana Buzz juice was worth 250kcal. I’ve had them before and survived. The hat got to me, and mid-slurp, I googled it. Just to check.
Anonymous immediately threw away her nightsnack and set about calculating how much of her supper she was allowed to eat. The problem was, it happened again. I excused myself from my post supervising the exit, and found somewhere quiet to sit and have my supper away from prying eyes. And then I ate all of it. Ellie just shovelled the food into my mouth, ravenous for any ounce of energy to help her through her shift until 1am. I don’t understand why, but I just felt I needed it. I was exhausted.
It has been a very emotional day, really. Surely that must be worth some calories?
And as my nurse said, I probably need them.
I just don’t believe I do.
I’ve just published my last blog so I’m going to keep this short and sweet.
Got very bored and agitated at work: too much admin in too smaller office; too many questions as to why I insisted on standing and running errands. Far too many Anonymous eyes watching me desperately try not to have an inactive day. (Ellie: “define ‘inactive’”?)
I will elaborate on the current argument between Anonymous and Ellie another time. It’s a recent dispute over whether or not Ellie is losing control of her exercise levels since she arrived here, and I’m just not wanting to talk about it right now.
I don’t want to scare myself by believing I’ve started going backwards.
Thank you for helping me retrace my steps through a very difficult week.
Going backwards has spat me out where I began: proud and full of hope.
Tomorrow, I will work to reset myself. Let us hope I can carry myself into the next week, and hold myself as the days rush forwards, clawing and pulling at Recovery’s scaly back.
(Disclaimer: I just wanted to use that title. There is nothing remotely mediocre or badly written about this body. Not a boring kg in all 50 of them. I’ve worked hard for this shit.)
The 50th May 2018. A day swallowed by history, and devoured by recovery. For it is as we hurl ourselves headlong into summer, on the cusp of all things bright and beautiful, that Ellie performed some sort of miracle.
I’ve made it to 50kg.
Two years, 11kg and several tons of avocados has washed us up here. Tidal tears and volcanic tantrums. I’ve moved mountains: and piled them on. Dragging all this weight up an axis towards a horizon that has finally melted beneath my feet.
The numbers flashed once, twice, then fixed me with their unblinking infra-red eyes. 50kg glared down at itself, and Ellie squealed.
Surprise raised my mood up to dizzying heights for a moment: up there where the air is clear, and anorexia struggles to take breath. As I stood there on the scales, basking in my nurse’s applause, I let Ellie gabble on and on at what this might mean. She filled my head with her future, the one she designs at every mealtime. The one she has haphazardly been attempting to unearth under layers of thick and sticky anonymity.
It was days before I reeled her in, back into this body. Only then did I calculate my BMI, something I find myself doing immediately after any fluctuation in my weight. Anonymous wanted to see how far she had let me wander towards the line between “underweight”, and “anorexic”. 16.6 is a few kilos too far to just do nothing. It must mean something.
Unlike anorexia, Ellie can communicate with weight gain. She can decipher an accurate meaning of it. Yes Ellie, at this moment, I understand. This means we’re trying to get better. This means things will be better.
I clambered off, then got stage fright. That’s when anonymous caught me. This means we’re getting better. Now what would that mean?
I had set short-term rewards for weight deadlines to tempt myself and Anonymous into surrendering to Ellie’s hunger. My reward for this one was exercise: that much was decided on the day I was diagnosed. At 50kg, I could exercise again, so long as the calories were provided for. As I type, every 50 kilos of myself is quivering. I’ve plans for exercise, but have already let anorexia starve me off sharing them with anyone. She has forced words of retribution and denial on my parent’s tongues before they’ve even had a chance to listen for themselves. My body has tuned in to the fear: that I have come so far, chasing a lie. That it is all some nasty trick to make me fat or force me into inactivity. Hang on, let me weigh that up: yes, that feels anorexic. But it also feels real. I want to go to the gym tomorrow, but couldn’t cope with the guilt of doing it behind my parents’ backs. My choices are made shadows when they’re turned the other way. I can’t work out how to bring up my body without dredging up fear with it.
Yes, I can hear these anonymous words: the worst thing is that I’m still listening. I’m heavy enough to recognise her, but too light to throw her off, for now.
There is much work to be done.
I have walked miles to reach this mile st.
This is the highest point my weight has reached in recovery. It has finally starting to pop above the hazy stagnation it had been suppressed under for so long.
I wish I could say that it was Ellie: all Ellie. I wish I could say she was enough for me to pull kilos of myself together, just for her. It wasn’t, not entirely anyway. It is the fruit of the future dangling just out of my reach. If all things good hadn’t conspired to laden the branches so, it would never have leaned in close enough for me to smell it. In Spring’s twilight, it smells more fragrant than all the summer blooms. We are on the cusp of something good, some summery shred of possibility. Thank heavens my parents are here to point it out, everyday.
50kg was set in st as a goal weight the day I as diagnosed. It is a historically significant weight: it is the weight that gave anorexia it’s name, though I never uttered it until I was sure. At 50kg, people noticed Anonymous; they pointed her out in the street and called her anorexic.
50kg was the weight I was pulled out of my university Women’s VIII, weeks before regatta season. It was the first time a flashback felt boring, dull, muted. The first time the pain finally numbed.
At 50kg, I realised I was in a relationship with anorexia, and had been for a very long time.
That was then. 50kg feels different now, somehow. As if something has started to pick at it’s bones.
The time was right months ago. This over-ripe fruit is ready to be picked, but I have to prove I can do it alone. Independence itself is one of the plump, juicy temptations “getting better” has to offer. Sts and all.
The stench does get heavy. It can leer so close that Anonymous becomes afraid of being smothered by it. She will see me bite into it, and disciover it is rotten to the core. She’ll have me choke on it’s imperfect skin, and grow fat and lazy on all the sweet calories it contains.
The problem is, Ellie is still starving. She is hungry to try that sun-pecked fruit, almost excited. Recovery would mean so much if it spoke with a satisfied tongue.
To grow the good things: friends, family, independance, even happiness: I force myself to wake up next to Ellie every morning. She points up at my future, chides me along to get up and try.
I’m strong enough to grab the low hanging fruit most days now: most days, I fulfil my swollen, fattening, weight-gaining meal plan. On the good days, it tastes good.
Recovery has been feeding me small rewards for reaching 50kg without my even noticing. Occasionally letting go the branches of my family that I weigh down so has been delicious. The guilt of placing so much of myself on my parent’s shoulders is squeezed out when I managed to attend to clinics all by myself. I did the car journey and everything. Cruising along to Coldplay felt too nice to be naughty.
The ability to occasionally divert Anxiety away from an attack has meant the days feel lighter. They don’t hurt so much, and pass through with minimal bruising. Blocking Anxiety as it raises itself, ready to pounce, weakens anonymous but strengths Ellie’s cause. If I can only get stronger, surely, Anxiety will be easier to control, even quarantine? My senses are 11 kilos sharper, my mind 11 kilos less empty.
Even challenges are being offered up to Ellie as rewards. A plateful of independence is on my summer menu. I plan to go away for a few weeks, live alone and unsupervised, and work at a summer school. Be a ghost to my former self, who was so good at her job. This particular fruit is, admittedly, shrouded by a thick skin. Sharp spines that threaten it’s failure only serve to back me further than Ellie’s arms. My biggest worry is not having the energy to do my job. One school day at the moment is enough to send me into a sleepy trance. To break through this worry and reach sweet success, I have to eat.
Anxiety is cancerous. It spreads and multiplies, swells something small into a monstrosity. It reached 50kg as soon as surprise died on the scales.
Anonymous has been rattled. She didn’t see 50 coming, not really. It crept up on her and has hijacked her distrust in my own strength. I must have been wearing 50kg without even realising it: my clothes hugged me comfortably, and I still experienced episodes of dizzying hunger highs. Short, yes, but still at exactly the same times. Like clockwork telling time to wait.
Now I have locked eyes with those two red numbers on the scales, I’ve noticed. 50kilos watches my back as lumber along the street, my heavy footsteps clamouring in my ears. Recovery has dilated on my thighs and shrunk my jeans. Bloating drowns satiety into a sinister hum, lost to groaning indulgence.
This is an easy target for Anxiety. In some ways, it is quite nice to have it attack something close to me – on me. Something easily solved should the pain get too much, and easier to manage than the irrationality of another person.
The fruits of my labour make me sick.
Anonymous convinced me I’d be immune to those 11 kilos, that they’d never get near me. Now it is upon me and Ellie yearns for more, the only way I can manage the symptom of recovery is to monitor it closely. See what happens when things start to get better, see how I’ll cope.
Recovery, I understand you believe it is worth all of this.
Don’t show me the incoming hoard of angry thoughts, feelings and memories. It will put me off my supper. You mean well by giving life back to me, but slowly please. It is just too much.
Yoga drip feeds me life, as does my family and my plans. Life is swelling up. I can even turn it on its’ head, and precariously balance the risk of attempting an arm balance. This feels good, I just wish I felt more confident wearing it than I do wearing anorexia. Some things just take getting used to, even the taste of success. It leaves a bitter after taste, but Ellie seems determined to try it.
She think we’ll enjoy it.
Reaching 50kg has been gruelling. But as it turns out, I always had it in me. Now I have it on me too.
I’ve recovered 11 kg and have more to go. I’m not out of the woods yet, but at least I now know I am definitely on track. The same fabled track walked thousands of time by thousands of other anorexics, their families, their doctors. Come, heave your weight up here. It will lead us out. Soon, you’ll see the view.
Recovery is happening. A natural disaster shakes the ground beneath my feet, closes gaps and highlights cracks. The 50th of May is just another day in recovery: another day swallowed by history.
I’ve been trialling a new treatment for Anonymous this week.
It was prescribed by my nurse after she had briefed me on it’s previous success in other anorexia cases. A cheap and sometimes time consuming therapy, to be taken every evening just before bed.
Naturally, I was sceptical. Anonymous is suspicious of anything that might bring about the inevitable: she is wary of change. Why change, when my current prescription is working so badly? Why take the risk of finding something that actually does work, something that will pull me out of anorexia?
After one week, I am willing to believe this could be life-changing. I feel amazing, almost high.
The wonder drug? A “Positivity Journal”.
After I’ve brushed my teeth, put Anxiety in it’s pyjamas and filled out my food diary; I pull out a cloth-bound diary and a biro.
I write the date, three positive things that happened today, and three things to look forward to tomorrow. The first attacks fear, and the second attacks dread: the two strains of hopelessness. Three is a magic number, but doesn’t curse my entries as a rule. One day last week was simply crawling with good things, so I pinned all of them down under my nib.
Something positive is my final written word of the day, and I can go to bed and welcome sleep.
The best part is that I sort of understand the science of it. Whilst other treatments remain mysteries, this one is relatively simple, and completely under my control. Unlike weight gain – which has side effects more grotesque than the illness, so seems utterly pointless (in my anonymous opinion) – “positivity” is a relief. It is an instant painkiller for a bad feeling, and antidote to anxiety. “Antidon’t”, if you will.
Just like weight gain, I notice the medicine as it starts to work. Knowing I have to write three good things about the day later forces me to find the good things as time slips by. Each day has been turned into a treasure hunt for nuggets of positivity: the rain waited to start until I had reached the car; I made two old ladies on the train smile; I woke up to a crying cuckoo.
Better still is what can sometimes happen to the bad things. You see, when one single monstrous occurrence threatens to ruin an entire day of delicately placed positivity, Ellie gets defensive. She leaps upon this selfish fiend and pulls at it’s form, with the intention of turning it into something good. Failing that, she’ll tear off a handful an anxious period and call it a lesson, to be carried around and referred to as WORD. Only good things can come from being informed. It may keep a similar bad thing from happening in the near future.
This may not be a cure nor a sustainable source of help, but it is a diversion away from things that could aggravate anorexia. Fewer flare ups give Ellie more energy to focus on pulling thin pins from the side of recovery.
It gets better. No, it really does.
Writing down the good things in life is a natural remedy. Because it has no hidden agenda, no additives or calories – emotional or otherwise – anorexia just swallows it. It is an easy painkiller to administer.
Essentially, I am drugging Ellie with positivity. She is drip-fed the good stuff all through the day and a final shot in the evening sees the day pass into the night.
Positive features of the day mingle together and become a cocktail. Hope becomes a vision in these fumes. Every night for the last week, I have caught Ellie looking forward; already planning where she’ll look for good. This is a stark contrast to Anonymous, who still casts her eye around, anticipating the bad.
Journalling is a psychedelic experience.
Pulling a thought or a memory out of my head and forcing it onto paper has long been a comfort throughout my recovery. It always looks different down there, smaller almost. Not quite the monster it was when it was locked ink my head.
This “positive” journalling adds another dimension to the whole experience. An extra sense to guide me through the harsh terrain in recovery, which is mined with anorexic traps and triggers. The principal of evaluation remains the same.
Words stare at me from the paper, reflecting my thoughts back to me. There it is, all in writing. I marvel at them awhile. It is in these moments of reflection, that I am learning how to be grateful.
Having good things happen to you makes you grateful, not greedy. This is a pretty detail I’m gradually becoming aware of, even if I’m not convinced I’ll ever believe it. So much life can fall in the gap “knowing” and “believing”.
Yet it is this depraved and frightened belief that feeds anorexia. Anonymous justifies bad things happening by expecting them, almost greeting their occurrence with relief, as if I’ve repaid some of the debt to the universe I owe for simply taking up space.
How interesting it is to write that on paper.
Gratitude is a pleasant side effect to positivity, and is accentuated by reflecting on it.
It is a high like no other. I can’t believe what I’ve been missing, and what I still deny myself when I let Ellie retreat into black space.
By denying myself the pleasure of positivity, I have also been mistreating the good things.
Ellie, how do you treat the good things in life? As though you’re embarrassed by them, perhaps? As if they’re shameful, or somehow incriminating? Why must you push them away, as if you’ve no right to them?
Taking positivity has bought my fear out and demanded an explanation from it. Explain: explain why you cannot accept the good things for what they are.
I am one week into the course of “positivity”, and already I can feel the weight dissipating on my shoulders. Gratitude lifts the day out of my hands and casts it out of my control. It only invites me to chase the sun into the next day.
This week, I am grateful to have heard the cuckoo call. I am grateful to have felt a burst of rain lash against my face before the sun burst out like a boil. I am grateful to have heard the rain’s arrival: the sharp tap on a leaf or a window pane. I am grateful to never hear it descend, only arrive.
This week, I am grateful for space. I am grateful to have somewhere to roam, ponder, and grow.
This week, I am grateful for exposure: for good things to befall me disguised as baddies.
In the cinema, I sat next to large people eating large portions. The salty smell permeated the air, broken only by smacking lips. Ellie endured, and I thank her for proving science right: no, Anonymous, you can’t catch fat from other people.
In the car, I was strapped in with intrusive thoughts. I rode the day with a premonition: a threat glaring at me in my rear view mirror. Ellie endured, and I thank her for getting me home safely; for scrapping Anxiety’s script and rewriting how the day would be.
At home, we have been plagued by noise. Road-works and car horns, the crack of clicking bass from next door’s summer party. The house quivered anxiously. My nerves stretched past the point of anorexia’s tolerance with every day spent under house arrest from other people’s selfish intrusions. Ellie endured, and I thank her for not tearing all her hair out.
This week, I am grateful for exposure, because it shines a new light on my resilience. Still pale and flakey, but a hide strong enough to withstand small portions of life.
This week, I am grateful to have been rootling in the moment for something good, not scraping around in the future for something bad.
Of course, like all treatments, this one has it’s limitations and side effects.
Being on standby for something good is almost anxiety inducing. When time runs dry of nice things and I am left clutching at straws by the end of the day, I become aware of how desperate I feel. My life dwarfs next too everything I hoped to achieve today and everyday. Eventually I’ll retreat into myself to wallow in my misery, and let myself shrink.
Some days are easier to swallow with a positive pill than others. Time sometimes chokes on a trigger and too many thoughts churn reality into a sticky mess. It is easy to lose sight of the good when it is drowned in all the bad. It’s absence haunts me.
And of course, there’s that all too familiar sensation of failure when I am unable to see any good, or even any point. Blinded by anorexia, anxiety, or just the dull, a surrender is inevitable. I am hoping that with time and “positive” treatment, I can turn away from “failure”, and instead learn to manage it as “disappointment”. A hard task for anyone I think you’ll agree, especially if one hasn’t the ability to think straight anyway.
I know one shouldn’t get too excited by the initial results of a new medicine, but I can’t help feeling that this is some sort of magic pill. Time goes down smoothly, like thick drops of syrup.
Can you overdose on positivity? Imagination run away with the idea of the future, and forget that I’m not invincible, only inevitable.
Here are my three biggest positives this week: I made a new friend, I managed to do a headstand in yoga (perseverance and practice pays off!), and I put on weight.
Let me write that again, just so we can reflect on it. I put on weight.
A whole 0.4kg of positive energy, for which I will be grateful. Perhaps not quite yet, but soon, I will believe that this too is a good thing.
This too, is inevitable.
We must be grateful for the inevitable; else we will simply grieve.