A Stranger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Precision Theory

No Mum. I can’t try just one Kale chip.
Which one? Of what veg:oil ratio?
There is, say, about 57kcal per 23g packet. Of that packet, what percent would I then be eating by having a single kale chip?
Let the value of the chip be unknown. Now, Ellie, find the meaning of eating just one.
Imagine how that will stick out in my food diary. Lunch: OUT @ Pret a Manger: Festive Salad box; 1 x Kale Chip. (And then what – describe it? Large leaf approx. length of index finger. Salt crusted and curling at edges, a deeper shade of green – suggesting longer cooking time?)
Work that one out on the scales. It will surely show up in my weigh-in. Uh huh, even that one.
Yes I do eat kale. And yes, it is considerate of the manufacturers not to adulterate these lush leaves with anything nasty; any additives; any anorexic pesticides.
But Mum, that’s not the point.
No, no thank you. I’d rather eat the whole bag than sneak one.
Well I’ll tell you. Look here at this neat little packet, very pretty yes? Decorated in all these numbers down the side, an exact measurement of kcal and g. Of course that’s exactly what will be in the packet. That or less. One can trust these companies to scrape by with the bare minimum: they cannot make a profit by being generous.
What are you doing? No I don’t want a packet Mum. That’s not what I meant. I was just making a point.
An exact, precise point.

Control variables in my life are being monitored.
This constant counting and recounting, documenting what I let happen today.

Anonymous applies precision theory to the science of weight gain.
Weight is an important source for my nurses. It tells the simple tale of my week in recovery.
But it is a clumsy and fickle thing, weight. I don’t trust it.
Every Monday morning between 10:02-10:07, I stand on the time and place to recover. Anorexia scrutinises the number flashing from the scales. Staring down, she stares it down and strips it back.
Immediate checks on that number are carried out. My weight could latch on to a heavier vest, or get stuck in the grip of an extra couple of hairpins. A wall of water may get stuck in my cells after that extra glass last night.
Anonymous counts and moderates all the variables controlling my weight, not just my food. My clinic uniform is thin, lightweight. A single cotton layer that is proving ever more difficult to maintain now winter is closing in. Six studs; one glass of water aloud at breakfastime. Four attempts to wee prior to entering the ward. I record the size and timeliness of stools as the pass, or not pass. Meals from supper the night before right through until breakfast are calibrated and checked by the clock.
Any reason to accuse weight it is lying.
Things are not improving.

Precision cuts anxiety down to a size I can manage.
To achieve precision, Anonymous questions everything until every answer is the same. Nothing is ever worked out, yet here she is working on it all the time.
Tablespoons levelled, scales balanced. A full life, half emptied. Dressing on the side. Just in case something slips past, just in case something is added to my life.
Precision theory forces a solution to get comfortable, and forces a thin answer from the lips of change: soon. But not yet, we can’t be better yet.

Cage myself in precision, knowing I won’t survive in the wild and random world.
Ellie took me out there once last week.

I padded into the kitchen to find Mum bending over a pot on the stove. The air was thick, wrapped in a herbal hue. I could hear mushrooms cackling as they were tickled by tomatoes.
This ratatouille recipe had been giggling in the pan not five days ago. Enough for two. I watched my parents slurp the spiced sauce whilst I nibbled on a lonely creation of my own. Ellie looked on indignantly. She must have missed something: ratatouille didn’t seem to be as worrying as it was rumoured to be. A bit of olive oil, perhaps the tomatoes splitting their sides as they giggled in a sugar rush. Perhaps we hadn’t missed anything: perhaps it was just a miscalculation.
Anonymous scratched her head again as Ellie handed her mother three plates. Just a portion, please. An Ellie sized portion.
Thick wedges of stewed vegetables sank onto porcelain. We shared a supper together, delighting in the madness of not knowing who had that bigger slice of courgette, the larger spoon of sauce. They were roughly the same: and roughly was fine. Roughly was rustic, homemade. Marked out to be interesting and unpredictable. The same definition of life, wouldn’t you agree?
There were no numbers to add up. The supper just worked. This plate of food didn’t need to be questioned, for it was perfect.

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Feast your eyes.

The next day in the clinic, I wasn’t weighed. It’s a doctor’s way of throwing Anorexia’s eye off the ball. We will never know the impact of that Ratatouille.
I pondered the meaning of ratatouille, and tried to weigh up the possible impact it would have had on my calorie intake. An anomaly of 50-100kcal, perhaps? Ellie considered this no further that evening. She is learning, slowly, that a blip like this doesn’t tarnish the bigger picture. If anything, it adds some colour, some character.

Let’s look at the bigger picture. I see no points, only smooth learning curves.
When Anorexia focuses my sights on a small, sick number, it is difficult adjusting my sights onto the something as big as Life. I can’t bring myself to look this big brute in the eye. Look away so I don’t look back; not scare the future away by staring longingly.
I just stare down at the scales, focusing on the immediate and imminent anxiety the next mouthful of kcal could bring. Then let Precision be the only comfort when treading the exact route to nowhere.
Anorexia looks after the details. It’s all she can cope with, it’s all she can reach.
That’s why the portrait of an Anorexic Life is so bare, so dull.
Predictable brush strokes skirt life’s boundaries, missing them.
Barely scraping the edges.

Precision is an exact science, whereas Hope is only a theory.
I’m experimenting with Hope. Using the nut theory I mentioned in my previous blog post, I was weighed today.
I walked into hospital proud, prepared. I smiled and cried, and let relief rain down. The number went up, and so did the bar. Now, Ellie, you need to keep going. You need to keep gaining.

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Let’s be having you then

We never could have predicted the outcome of the Nut Experiment. Neither Ellie nor Anonymous thought it would give birth to a new age of Hope. A precise point, somewhere in the future.

Theory of Nuts

A fresh piece of debris: a brazil nut. This fat, woody wedge. And look here, a handful of gnarled cashews. Splintered almonds. The buttery flesh of nature’s pills: natural capsules of good things. They had been a staple, rattling around my diet plan since I entered recovery. Then, I lost them. Anonymous shed them, shrugging off the extra weight: that extra 400 kcal that would get my weight moving again. They’ve been crushed underfoot as time trampled by. Listen to them crunch.
Here is the problem. The Nut problem. What is in a Nut?
What is the meaning of Nuts?

Let us step away from the scales a moment. Take a seat.
Shut my food diary and turn the clock’s face away. Switch off your screen’s harsh light, the glare will never see through this shiny surface.
Sit beside me, just here in my chair. There. Now, we can begin.

23757765_910433539112079_1664424491_oI step onto the time and place to recover, every Monday between 10:02 – 10:07. Let’s watch the numbers flash: a light show during a heavy downpour. It is over as quickly as it began. The sharp spike of kg digs deep and starts to bleed as I pull away from the scales. The numbers stare me down. My nurse is the only witness to the crime of change: up or down. Up, then down.

Weight is a fickle thing. We have to watch it every week, just to be sure. The progress across an axis is monitored, only colouring between the lines of the bigger picture. The number on those scales tell a simple tale of my week in recovery. Not the full story, but just enough to say whether or not Ellie did it this week. Did you try it, Ellie?
The stats from the last few weeks have been dull. The readings make up an Anorexic script.
Everyone else watches me, dithering.
Dithering in my chair, watching time lash against the pains.

The greatest challenge this anorexic faces is the small problem of weight gain. The Eating Disorder unit have been frowning at Anonymous’ behaviour patterns, concerned now. I just can’t seem to get my head around it, no matter how hard I put my mind to it. Somewhere, there is a leak.
A weakness.

Normally, I sit down in a chair opposite my nurse. It groans in protest as I lower Ellie and Anonymous into it’s arms. Clutching those pinewood arms, I confront my nurse’s questions. Grounded on the ward floor, I am the chair. Heavy and unmoving. Part of the furniture. Somewhere to put my life for awhile, before it has to be packed up and taken home again.

“Take a seat, Ellie. Just here beside me.” my nurse beckoned, waving me over.
Ellie rose from this chair, and took three steps across the room. Past the whiteboard, past the notes, past the window. Ellie sat beside my nurse, in the deep unchartered territory of an onlooker. Anonymous snuggled up, still on the other side of the room. This new chair held my back up, as if it were unused to being sat upon with such uncertainty. It was a very nice chair. Lots of support, and so much room.
I looked back across the room, at my lonely chair.
The silence began to growl. My nurse broke it with a prompt: “From here, what do you want to say?”
Want.
You’re fooling nobody Ellie. Of course you know.
The more I interrogate her, the more she admits, the more she confesses. She is fascinating. She confides and condemns. From this unflattering angle, I noticed an ugly trend in the answers she gave to my questions. I was being ripped off by that three letter word that meant nothing to me: you.
You are why. You are what.
The chair cowered, the only thing it was afraid of, was me. Ellie, you are the reason I cannot get out of that chair. Because of you.
Every question was an accusation. I shrank in my chair and listened to everything come down to me. The thin fault line we had been tracing thickened in my blood. I just wanted to leap up and out, and tear apart her peace of mind, her reason why. Peace, by piece.

You’re the nut.

From the other side of the room, I saw it happen. I watched Ellie tie herself up in knots, and hold herself back. She shackled herself to patienthood so she’d never escape and realise what she might be capable of. Only I can guess what I’m capable of doing,
or provoking.
Yes Ellie, maybe it is you I am most afraid of. How frightening you must be, for me to choose Anorexia instead.

I admit it. I know.

Back in my normal chair, I slotted back into Anonymous. Cringing, shame crawling all across my skin. I tried to sit tall, to uphold myself. Then I felt an osteoporotic bolt charge up my spine, and reality once again gripped me.
(Observation: I wanted to write “paralysed with fear” here, but worried I might jinx it. That by saying it, I might give fate permission to let something bad happen. Anxiety speaks for me, just so I don’t mess that up too.)

That session came home with me. Ellie began to pay attention to her thoughts as they raged and rumbled through her head. She caught them as they turned in on each other. Ingrowing thoughts pile up and protrude, blinding my mind’s eye. A cancerous, sticky lump that blocks up the way out of Anorexia.
If I track my thoughts, I can turn them on Anorexia. Away from me – get away from me.
When I had asked where to start off again down the road to recovery, the answer had been you. Where did you last see it?

When I start to lose the plot of my writing, I walk away. Leave it a day or two, take the time to gather the angry mob trying to break out of my pen. I reorder these thoughts, carry out some background checks: themes; opposites; synonyms; origins … words soon form an orderly queue, and ink floods the page.
When I lose the plot of my life, I do the same. Retreat into my bedroom, turn off all the lights and curl up on floor. There, no light can contradict what I know is lurking in the dark.
Now I’ve lost the plot of my nuts, I must also do the same. I stood away from the scales. I cut off Nuts and numbers, and began my interrogation. Unpicking the problem, spreading it’s innards across a spider diagram. (See Fig. 1)

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Fig. 1

Nuts = 400kcal = +0.4kg = weight gain = change = possible recovery = n/a. No reliable sources to say what “recovery” would mean, or if it would be ethical to explore it.
Fiction and fact became inbred and raised a new species of anxiety: where recovery was immune to weight. Where the nuts needed to be extinct – because of the ill will of nature.

Thus, I deduced the following answer:

Life   = Nuts
Time

Therefore: Life = nuts x time.

Or, Nuts every time.

Ah, but what is x happens? Recovery: the unanswerable theory of Everything.
Oh Ellie, what if it doesn’t?

My clinics are getting heavier.
Unpicking me from the grip of Anorexia leaves punctures in the thick skin I’ve been hiding beneath. I bite into a memory then spit out the shell of shock. Question marks are swallowed only to get stuck. The answers rise as lumps in my throat. Words crammed together by hyphens and ellipses. Silence is strung out, before something gives. A story, or a tear. Anything we can work with:
Once, and again – Anxiety was put on ice. A tongue tripped me up, a glass became charged with obligation.
That time I typed Trouble into the search box.
Where I was, and wasn’t. When. Why.
My birthday, lurking only a few days away. I need to talk about that, if I can get it into the room without Anxiety dragging me away, and attacking.

Grounded on the ward, my nurse has asked me to prepare for sessions, not brace myself for them.
I heave an issue into the room with me, and sit it between our two chairs. Sometimes, that’s all I’ll manage in a day. Other times, we can pull it apart. Piece, by peace.
I’ll go away and do my homework on it. Diaries, unpublished blogs; spider diagrams, tight chests and angry outbursts.
This is the revision of my life, and it is hard. Heavy. Just so I can attempt to answer this question: Why not find out what recovery would mean?
Imagine.

Imagine what you’d be able to do, Ellie, if you put all this work into something that wasn’t trying to kill you.

No cliche can make up for the reality. A leap or a jump is a sorry apology for what it is to just do it. To stop chewing over the gains and losses, the theory of nuts and theory of thin.
Anorexia questions everything until all the answers are the same. I cannot think my way out of this eating disorder, it has to be weighted out.
This we know: it is a scientific process.
This, a problem so big – so heavy – that I got stuck in this chair. I can’t bear it.

I need extra help getting out of my chair. This conclusion was drawn from last night’s spider diagram on treatment options.
Let the weight drop, and I can move out of the chair – into a hospital bed.
Stay as you are if you wish Ellie, but your treatment won’t. Eight hour days, seven days a week as a day patient awaits you to force those numbers up to the high altitudes that accommodate those clouds of rationality.
Or go – just let Ellie go, and discharge yourself. Stop wasting all this time, all this money. Stop wasting space.
Neither Anorexia nor Ellie can stand being like this. Not ill enough to finally die, not well enough to realise what a privilege it is to live, to be free.
I want out of this chair: I want out of this Anonymous life. Ellie has been offered an extra day a week in this chair, and we intend to take it. A final push over the edge: to see if I can do this for me.

Look at all this work.
Look at what you did for yourself last week Ellie: you quit that job. When the air turned rancid with dread, when you looked at toxic in the face and rightfully ran away. It’s hard being proud of quitting my job as a waitress, because I did it for Ellie.
Anorexia doesn’t understand what’s hit her. Already, she is calculating the exercise loss. Trying to balance out the equations with a pilates class, an extra walk.
She can already feel pieces of my person breathe a big sigh of relief, grateful to make it through that final shift and come out alive. Grateful, because she found she could try.

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Sorry for the vulgar gesture. I blame Ellie.

Look at these scales. Start here.
Just do it.
For one week, try eating those nuts. See what happens.
All the variables are controlled by you, Ellie. I’ve got it all worked out. You’ll lose or gain 0.4kg, according to science.
Just try it: see if you’re worth it.

Miss Davies

A hand reached out to take a sandwich.
Amongst muddy knees, running noses and paint splashed cotton, I watched the boy push his hair out of his eyes and bite into it. Marmite squeezed between his fingers. My breath stiffened, and waited.
His face cringed. “Wow, that is STRONG.”
“and so SALTY.”
Marmite is not a political issue in my household. Anorexia hasn’t wasted kcal considering it before. I had tried to prepare for the responsibilities of my new job, but not this. Not a marmite sandwich.
Fresh out of lessons, the children teemed into my classroom. As “Miss Davies”, I stuff their snack, activities, tea and energy into three hours and clean the set ready for the next day. In a week, “Miss Davies” survived the administrative health checks, and passed the food handling assessments (I’m laughing too). “Miss Davies” built a den in the woods; modelled paper hats; dressed Barbie in Ken’s clothes; and conducted bulb-planting in the playground. Alas, the competent facade fell away when “Miss Davies” had to make a batch of marmite sandwiches for tea.
I’ve never been confronted by a marmite sandwich before in my life. Anonymous, unhelpful as ever, volunteered the logic that other people need more. To make Ellie feel better, other people need to be eating more.
The knife scooped out a gleaming blob of that satanic spread. Like an oil spill, it engulfed the bread. A rusting of breadcrumbs was the only evidence there had been any in the first place. More guesswork and suppositions were spread, layered and quartered. Served up on plates as the children began to cheep.
He swallowed. I held my breath.
“There’s NEVER this much marmite!”
“… can we have some MORE?”
Miss Davies waited, then released the air she had cornered in her lungs. “What do you say?”
“Can we have some more PLEASE?”
The comments about the next batch were thinly spread. Yet the content quiet devoured every last mouthful.
I looked down at Miss Davies’ hands, now covered in food. For the children, it seems Ellie can wash her hands of that fear. She has no choice: let them eat marmite sandwiches.

Anonymous drew back from my new job as soon as it was offered to me. She plucked words from the job description and twisted them into an anxious script.
This 3 hour window each weekday lets in a blast of uncertain energy expenditure, and sucks her afternoon walk away. Anonymous’ calorie budget gets scrubbed out by random bursts of sitting or standing, bending and crouching.
The children’s menu was sniffed at when she spotted smelly foods and sticky foods.
‘What-Ifs’ and ‘Protection Procedures’ decorated the walls with worry.
Anxiety swept the classroom and could predict the acoustic bedlam: riotous laughter clashing with squeaky shoes and marble run. Noise still shakes me like an alarm: one day, it might shake me so hard I’ll fall into distraction, and something bad could happen.
Getting this job at this school would scavenge a day away from my other job as a waitress: would save a day treading Ellie slowly into the ground.

Everything about working in that restaurant hurts.
The moist and dingy conditions sustain anorexia, and Anonymous strains have become tangled in the strings of my apron.
Anxiety runs riot across a floor mined with shopping bags, ducking as the blitz of shattering glass rains into my shoes like water. Puddles of anorexic sweat mingle with the unidentified fluid objects that claw at my toes, the smell clinging to my shoes. Paranoia is placed precariously down the crooked stairs into the dungeon: the kitchen that imprisons a handful of exhausted chefs and one poor, unfortunate waiter. The tribute, who was volunteered by some higher power to run food to table 10 – 63 – 42 –
My nurse watch in horror as shifts devour 8 or 9 hours apiece. Time is swallowed up standing, summating the lunchtime rush, trekking as far away as possible from the carnage tearing through my own head.
Anonymous enjoys the show. She watches me dodge a fistful of peas thrown by another perfect toddler. She grits my teeth and takes orders for steaks, fish pies, burgers. Anonymous nestles Ellie under the people whose mouths fill with saliva, sugar and salt – but never a please or thank you.
The air in there assaults me, and my anorexia flares up. I hold offensive articles at arms length and march at a pace, just to get to the table in time to escape again.
My breaths are rationed, and confined to several ‘safe spots’ near the ventilation. Ellie literally holds her breath until the end of the day. Fumes rise off customer’s plates even after they’ve finished.
Miss Davies’ hands are protected by napkins each time she has to pick any dishes up. They provide a thirty second grease barrier, before they too become sodden. A wheezing disinfectant spray cannot save the cloth that wipes up all manner of sin.
Anonymous sometimes breaks out in a nervous rash when serving overweight people. I cannot reuse the air around them in case I catch fat. Their money is held by the corners, their card payments contactless. It is one of the most shameful symptoms of my anorexia, one of the most hurtful.
With the high risk of exposure, any cross contamination is washed away in the sink next to table 56. Every time I walk past it. My hands are cracked from the chemical sterilisation.
In the car, my waitressing costume is quarantined. Shoes are removed and placed in a plastic bag, wet wipes wiping the grime off my forehead, the cleft in my nose, my frown lines.
Work will always follow me home, and catch up with me just as I walk through the door. There Anonymous is confronted by the trauma of her job, my parents, Billy. Please Billy, please don’t lick me. I’m filthy, I’m filthy.
In the shower I wash away the day.
A day’s work somehow makes the ends of reason meet, and I can afford a better snack: Anonymous lets me have a slightly bigger date, or heap my teaspoon of honey. Only by enduring a gruelling day do I earn that.

There is a thin reason for staying in this job. I just need that hit of High Intensity Harm. It is an expensive addiction. It has already cost me kcal, days in recovery pcm, and car parking.
Anonymous won’t cut the apron strings. It fits Anorexia: the monotonous routine, the warm superiority I am wrapped up in watching someone else eat whilst I starve. The Anonymous waitress is an ironic character: almost the fool, only better. She thinks.
I need to quit, I need to get clean.
Just not yet. If those 8 hours of exercise are stripped back, I don’t know what will be uncovered.

I watch Autumn’s generosity, and am in awe. Trees lay down their leaves before the retreating daylight, and welcome the violent, blustering storms as they pass through. The air releases the pressure, and nature lets go. All the energy stolen by summer is now returned to the earth. Sinking under piles of dead leaves. This, the seasonal retreat away from things that are over-ripe, chewy, no longer useful. I watch Autumn simply let’s itself go, and drift slowly back to earth.

Anorexia’s mother tongue will die out as the weight comes on. A dialect riddled with baggy pants will slip into the past tense. Only my words will retain an Anonymous accent. Struggle is covered up in Anorexia:
the stamp of a diagnosis.
– join dots of blood with drops of sweat
piece together broken
promises and roll,
roll strands into a joint or a line but thin keep it thin
thinner still;
bottle it up and put it on ice,
drink me dry, lick me clean
use the s word or r word or x word against mine, and your own;
then leash a tag, a stamp, #metoo –
#toomanyhashtags.
Explain the holes.
– what Change forgot to take away.

There is a conspiracy of silence. One day, it will be uncovered.
I’ll kick a pile of leaves talked down from their twigs. My thoughts will straighten into a strong, natural line.
My nurses are going to start pushing me now: our approach thus far has been too weak, too baggy. I need to eat in front of them, but I also need to talk to them.

A job gives me something else to chew over during the day. Something that isn’t myself, a piece of my mind, or food. I chew so vigorously polishing cutlery, or herding children, just to drown out the sound of my thighs expanding. In the clamour of the classroom and racket of a restaurant, Anonymous sucks on a sweet peace of mind.
I know which job Ellie enjoys the most. I know which job is sustainable in recovery.
Being anorexic makes me a good waitress.
But Anorexia is a language children don’t understand: they want to be sat with. They want a marmite sandwich. Long may that be the case.

In the mirror, I can see Change smile in all but myself.
I still can’t put my nuts back into my meal plan: not since they were taken out weeks ago. They are stuck.

Yes, I watch Autumn declutter with apparent ease.
I need to face the cold, icy reality of anorexia and recovery.
A winter of weight gain is inevitable: nature needs me to let go, and trust that the sun will rise on the other side.
Practice makes perfect: perhaps the first step is just closing your eyes, and swallowing. Get it over with.

I learned something delicious at school today.
Ellie has been practising so hard at thinking about sitting during the day. She learnt the theory, but didn’t have the conditions to test it. A pupil pushed me into it. She stood before me clutching a book, and wanted me to read with her. Oh, reading. That nourishing, liberating joy – that needs practising over, and over, and over. We sat for an unprecedented length of time, we devoured a chapter.
She learnt a new word, and how to train a dragon.
I learnt a new meaning: one that could help without hurting.
The sitting became irrelevant: it just didn’t mean anything anymore.

Looking at myself, I never found happiness. Perhaps I’ve been looking for the wrong thing: maybe it is meaning that will be uncovered,
if i recover.
I’ll never learn what it could mean to recover, unless I do.

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Do I look like a ‘Miss Davies’?

(An aftertaste: Anonymous is a fool to think looking after children is any less exhausting than walking. They are exhausting, but not draining.)

Mind: the Gap

Every morning, I unfold Body Image and examine it in the mirror. The glass fogs up with smoke.
From under piles of leggings and wooly socks, I pick out the same pair of words I wore yesterday, and the day before, and the one before that. They don’t suit each other very well, but they’ve been crammed next to each other in a sentence anyway.
The mirror cracks into a smile, and the girl bulges from side to side through the glass. Anonymous leans in and looks for my new number: she looks to see where that 0.5kg went this week. Damage to Anonymous’ shell dimples my cheeks and plumps out the cushions around my legs. Whispers of health pass by in a curl of strengthened hair. A single blush graffitis a perfect shade of pale.
Anorexia keeps my body caged in an image, and accessorises it with her thoughts, and her judgements. They are narrow and unflattering, fiercely protective of the sharp edges the marks her boney borders.
Ellie looked at the image before her and shook her head, wondering why weight must be in the foreground. It takes up the whole picture: the only hard evidence that recovery is passing through. It just seems so out of proportion. Far too big and taking up far too much space.

I put Body to one side, making sure it was folded up so the creases were as thin as possible. The mirror gaped at what was left of my Image. Ellie, Anonymous, and myself. A gathering of unsavoury characters, and a story full of holes.

I had negotiated a 4 week gap between my hospital assessments, in order to prove that I do not need to be admitted as a day patient into the Eating Disorder Unit. It never occurred to me that I had just dug myself another hole, and found another empty gap to fill.
My plate was piled high with promises: the dietary increases would start tomorrow. The scales would fall away to weight welcomed with pride. Time would crack, and prise Anonymous away from my meal plan. Ellie would testify that she could react to Anxiety in some other way than cutting off her crusts, or watering down a smoothie. For four weeks, Anonymous has had nothing to eat but her own words. Here is the bitten word: weight gain.
Anorexia fed me denial for the first week. Surely, I didn’t need to increase my diet. All this food is far too big, and takes up far too much space. It wouldn’t be real, just a trick of gravity.
-0.1kg.
The second week, I dithered in my comfortable gap between an increase, and an intention. +- 0kg. An anomaly, surely. Ellie had been gnawing around the hull of her strawberries, and licked the spoon twice. Those teaspoons of hummus had been heaped for heaven’s sake. Still, the image flickered on the scales.
The third week, I was pushed into it. Anonymous’ logic was sweet as I ate it, and spat it out. A tablespoon of nut butter melted into my porridge, and it conjured up a miracle. +0.5kg.
Don’t let that slip between your fingers, Ellie.

It is so easy to talk myself out of increases, so I literally have to eat my words.

I unfolded up those numbers, and held them up into the light. Then realised what I was looking at. A gap had opened up between my meal plan and my metabolism. That’s the crack my efforts were falling into.
Ellie closed her eyes, and braced herself. It was so deep, and so dark.

Anxiety has been trying to talk me into staying in this hole, I think. It’s hard to tell, because I don’t ever fully understand what it’s trying to tell me.
When it tries to speak, rational words become strangled, crushed by the pressure of so much emotion climbing upon it from such a height. Change looms up there, and it alarms Anxiety. So it starts making all this noise.
Listen, Ellie. What is Anxiety actually trying to tell you?

My brain hasn’t got the kcal to waste on thinking efficiently. Ellie is so out of practice in dealing with her thoughts, that she ends up over-thinking. This often results in a obsessive surge, and then Reason blacks out. Anxiety has to take over: someone has to reestablish order.
It spat thoughts in my face with every mouthful.
An extra centimetre of cucumber burnt my tongue like acid.
A Times article on the possible – improbable – irreversible damage a whiff of bacon can wreck on metabolism crippled me for days afterwards. I hobbled around work in the coming days, desperately trying to shield my nose from the aromas rising off my customer’s plates.
Suddenly, my legs were being prised open all over again. Food blared between the pages of my magazine. I was catching fat from that person on the train and this person in the queue. An angry, vengeful rash of pregnancies and STIs came back to bite me from the past.
Thoughts gathered together and descended upon me like a mob. Time was chewed up and pressed harder against this four week window. Failure stared straight through me.
Of course Anxiety felt threatened. She was crying out for help. Anorexia is in trouble, she is being exposed.
Your friend needs help. She helped you, remember?
Each hour was littered with signs to turn back and retreat into my hole.

There were cracks just waiting to swallow me up as I advanced forward, trembling with fright from the spectre of hospital food.

Looking into the future, Anonymous can already see cracks that will trip me up further down the road to Recovery. That one just there, the one hiding just behind my mirror. And over there, the gap between “weight restored” and “recovered”. That’s a hard fall there: one which nobody cares about, and nobody takes seriously.

Some holes are placed just where Anonymous can trip other people up too.
The space between your mouth and my ears is dangerous. Meaning leaves your tongue with good intentions. Healthy compliments fall ill as they travel over the gap of understanding. When I receive them, they are twisted and tortured into Anorexic weaponry.
It is so easy to offend Anorexia: just remind her she is failing. Just point out she is weak enough to let me get this healthy, to “look so well”. When someone falls into this trap, Ellie gets dragged down too. If we look so “well” at this weight, Ellie, why should you want to gain any more?

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Anonymous worries if Ellie looks too happy in a picture.

Anorexia tries to press her image up against your screen, so the gap in your knowledge widens. My social media pages are subject to censorship: she has an image to uphold. She needs to maintain her anomity: it is what keeps her safe.
Let us unfold a few that have been cast out. I wear them well.
Here, a plate of food. Pictures of food: proof of Anorexic failure. Ellie: are you eating solid food yet? This is one hole Ellie wants to explore. I have now set up a ‘sister’ instagram account where I can put pictures up of some of the (very exciting) food I eat. It can be found @eatenbyellie and is designed to add detail to the picture of Ellie, who is recovering. And she is proud of it.

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I just want to show off how pretty food is 😉

Ah, what about this one: Ellie wearing something nice. I had dithered in front of the mirror for hours. Shall you wear pretty, or thin? Whichever is more comfortable, or whichever you feel the most confident in.
Any image of me is fed to you in self-defence. Anorexia isn’t cool: it is freezing. And so very lonely. I struggle to see friends who will only have a memory of Anonymous. I am still competing against my own ghost; even if Ellie is so much better than she was.
Please, don’t offend Anonymous. She is my friend, and I trust her.
Scrolling through loneliness and desperation and inadequacy: other people can be blind to what is pictured on a screen. Look for that gap. Can you hear the screaming?

In the mirror, I can see holes in Recovery’s smile. The gap between my assessments made it crack from side to side, and reveal a set of perfectly disordered gaps in my understanding of this illness. Somehow, I fell through a crack.
Nestled in Now: somewhere between the past and the future, I am trying to find a face to pull over this gaping hole. Perhaps covering it up is as inefficient as Anxiety’s communication. It’s just that finding something to fill all these holes summons Fear from the pit of it’s hovel.

Recovery will work with Nothing to make Something, and it will possibly mean Everything. I have learnt that it will possibly be drafted and redrafted, edited, scraped, compared and contrasted with the other side of the gap, the other side of the argument. Always trying to be bigger and better and thinner than the last mouthful of words.
Ellie just needs to keep chewing through the knots of her confusion.
Eventually, Recovery will unfold another image of life beyond maintaining the image of a thin body. Surely, it will be more filling than this morsel of life.
Because this just isn’t Ellie. Anorexia simply isn’t me.

A Heaped Tablespoon

My family were retreating down the motorway, heading towards a week of bright horizons and rest: a holiday. I had to stay behind. If Ellie had gone, she would have taken Anonymous with her. I needed to keep her where I could see her. Ellie needed to know the grounds on which she was being hunted.

Anorexia has been dreading the summer. Just when Anonymous had adjusted her routine to the cold, the seasons had to change. Arrid hours made the days fat with extra time to fill. A heatwave burnt clothes off everyone around me and encouraged Ellie to shed the baggy coats she hides beneath. Anonymous blushes in the heat, embarrassed that this body seems well enough to know anything but cold.

I saw the challenges pile up in the hallway. Bags bulged with weaponry: a towel, suncream, a bottle of Pimms. Before my eyes, the patchwork of a holiday was being collected: the mismatch of relatives bedtimes and bathroom habits; lie-ins stretching the seams of a clock, chiming to no agenda. Gatherings and ruches around the table for a late breakfast. Sit-ins protesting the right to rest. Splashes of tea in copious cups of conversation, and waves of inactivity lulling one to sleep on the soft, sandy beach. A random pattern winding down into the sea.
Ellie couldn’t stomach the thought of wrapping Anonymous up in this unpredictable bundle. We don’t know how she would have reacted in such a hostile environment. Anonymous would never have flexed herself around the rules of a family holiday. It looked to be a hostile environment.
There was no Anorexia-friendly place to eat in isolation, and not enough stairs to climb. The spectre of mealtimes rattling uncertainly between 8 or 9 or 10 – depending on who does what, when they want. I was forbidden from exposing my brittle bones to grimacing waves, so could only have watched others dive into the sea. I would have been on the outside of my own pack.
I needed to stay behind so I could the tracks Ellie has yet to make in recovery.
I wanted to give my family the break from Anorexia Ellie couldn’t have. How naive we were to think it would be that simple: I spoke on the phone to my parents every night. Anonymous and I were still there in Cornwall, in spirit.
Declaring I wasn’t well enough to go on holiday rattled me. My parents had tried to shift expectation off my shoulders, explaining how we could make a plan to fit Anorexia’s habits around the holiday. Nothing could heave the burden of my own expectations: I had really thought there was a chance I would make it. So much so, I even booked a week off work in advance.

Last week was glued together by a heaped tablespoon of almond butter. Bronze and bulging, it hit the surface of a smoothie with a dull thud, echoing around the empty kitchen. Anonymous ate it for breakfast. It set her up for the day, energised with guilt. This tablespoon of almond butter stuck to me through that first lonely day. I don’t know why I challenged myself so early on: the real challenge was simply making it to the end of the week: no work, no family, no plan.

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Behold

Ellie could sense Anorexic activity. There was something insidious at work in the silence. An urge to pull away from my set meals, to sink beneath the responsibility of measuring the correct portion size. An Anonymous interference charged the empty air with anxiety. Decisions over food were made in cursed Whiching hours. Anonymous and Ellie fed each other ghost stories of what she might be capable of now she was left unattended. I became so crowded by my own company, and so frightened. Loneliness exposed me to myself, and I was under scrutiny. Watch closely. You’re about to be tricked.
My Anorexic rituals were practised to ward away the black magic of anxiety. I found Anonymous picking out grains of couscous until the portion size was exact. Ellie set a timer on her phone to monitor how long it took to finish a meal. Time was sticky, it slid by slowly. And everything was coated in a thick tablespoon of almond butter.

A week off work teetered on the cusp of a crisis. My meal plan has been doctored to balance my energy input and output, with extra energy to waste on my job as a waitress. By the pricking of my thumbs, I knew a week away from work would unbalance the equation. Less activity in the week would surely mean more energy to spare, and more energy to hoard under my arms. Any fluctuation in activity normally causes my food intake to drop: this is the Anorexic setting. I choose slim pickings if the sun dries out customers and I have a quiet shift at work, or if a traffic jam clogs up my morning with sitting. Being put on a small section at work means taking less steps through the day, and that can cause Anorexia to have a power surge on shift. Yet this week, Ellie had to test her balancing act. How would I manage that long, unwanted week ‘off’ balance?

Extra shifts lurked under the rota, right under my row of empty hours. Fat, juicy hours of movement and purpose. They were just so tempting: and they gave me something to do, something to take my mind off that heaped tablespoon of almond butter. My week ‘off’ was reduced, and so was my anxiety.

I took the tablespoon of almond butter into my hospital appointment: one of the first I have attended without Mum. I held it in my hand when I got on the scales, but dropped it in shock when I saw that I had lost weight – again. Anonymous couldn’t explain herself: she couldn’t explain why her logic hadn’t followed through. I had only worked 2 days, only sixteen hours skulking around an empty restaurant. Ellie heaped granola onto brand new smoothie bowls; gnawed around the hull of a strawberry after it had been weighed; seen oil bulge around the rim of a teaspoon measurement. I felt calories backing up thick and fast when I sat with my friend after we finished eating, and felt energy trapped by a heatwave that wouldn’t let it escape in shivers. And what about that heaped tablespoon of almond butter?
My nurse crushed my confusion: “You can’t think your way out an eating disorder, Ellie. You have to weight it out. You just have to do it.”

The words came up like vomit. I tried to stem them, trying to concentrate and order them. I tried to give it a name. But they just kept coming. I couldn’t control it: it just kept coming and coming. I emptied myself, and afterwards, everything was hollow.
I have been working with a psychologist, trying to work out why I am holding onto Anorexia. Last week we stumbled onto something:
My Eating Disorder helped me recover from an assault. It never occurred to me she might ask for anything in return.
Perhaps that’s why I can’t let her go.
End of session. We’ll continue this next week.
I walked out into the empty hospital corridor, and went home.

A memory rattled the window panes, shrieking into my injured silence.

It’s all part of the treatment, apparently. Sometimes it is hard to believe it is healing rather than harmful. Just like the almond butter, I suppose.

Anxiety subsided when it wasn’t under all that empty time pressure, and Ellie helped starve it out by keeping busy. We dead-headed the rosebush before petals could weep to the floor. We walked with boredom down public footpaths. We took time and placed it around the house: dust that shelf; take those bins out; arrange some flowers. Check and recheck and double check the clock, just to be sure time was wasting away. We froze bananas for my morning smoothie, we read Rumi Kaur. We digested each task slowly, never allowing temptation to lure us to our desk, or between the pages of a book. I settled down with Anxiety, and listened to it’s rasping snores. Writing this now, I can taste some sweetness from that week. Clamorous thoughts subsided into a gentle white din during the afternoons tending the vegetable patch. Joy coloured a day away from a grey job, and being treated as a waitress uniform apparently invites. I even plucked up the courage to ask a friend over for supper.

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(IT WAS SO MUCH FUN.)

Dress Code

It was feeding time on social media. A tag dragged my image kicking and screaming before an anonymous audience. Ellie looked to see if Anorexia had been lost in the post. I stalked my Anonymous appearance, scrolling through the costumes and props of a party, trying to spot her. She began to feel Fear Of Missing Out on an opportunity to display herself for all to see. She waited to reap reaction: like, love, anger, sad.
Somebody “liked” it, and another Somebody did too. I hid behind my screen, trying to reel in my imagination. It tried to climb behind Everybody’s eyes, and report back on what they thought of me. Then I saw it: that one photo that let off the aroma of progress. It gave Anonymous away. Compliments circled like vultures, and she realised she had been stitched up.

I had thrown the invitation away as soon as it arrived. There is nothing more offensive than being thought about when you claim to be Anonymous. The font curled like a claw across the card. “Ellie” was embellished with glitter. How had I let it be, that one of my friends had the tenacity to assume that I, the Anorexic, would be capable of attending her 21st birthday party?
Angry thoughts rattled me, and I threw the invite in the bin. Out of sight, out of mind: where we both belonged. The invite was a tasty morsel for Anonymous to chew on, to gnaw at me with. A challenge, thrown down at our feet through my letterbox. It demanded so much: to make an exhibit of this body; to subject it to the stares and judgement of Anybody and Everybody. It asked me to pose in a photograph with the wandering eyes and wagging tongues. To risk being caught in a crossfire of food or fun.
Anonymous was hurt. Anorexia wasn’t the one who had been invited: Ellie had. How insensitive. You see, Ellie, your friend doesn’t see that “anorexic” label hang from your name. She just sees your name. A name.

The dress needed to be confronted. I advanced towards it, holding up a garment I knew fitted: I needed a template. I needed something to size it up against. The dress hung it’s limbs, the silk straps recoiled and the waistline shrank away in my presence. Anonymous gathered her material, preparing herself for the inevitable destruction of her body image.
The dress didn’t look worn out anymore. It had served it’s time imprisoned in the attic, with all the other relics from my university years. The dress had debuted on Anonymous’ final show in Manchester: a society ball, where she put on a display of bones that gagged her friends. She had shoved Ellie to one side, and became the centre of Nobody’s attention. Stroking the silk, Anonymous relished the shapeless memory of starvation.
My Anorexic uniform seemed dull in comparison. I unzipped the dress – wait. I’m not ready yet. I couldn’t lie to Anonymous by trying on the dress on a full stomach. Hunched over the toilet for half an hour, I expelled every drop of liquid my body could muster. My tummy to backed down, mm by mm. I took the dress off the hanger – then Ellie stopped me. One more thing.
“Mum, I’m going to try my dress on.”
“Ok.”
A lot had to fit into that dress.

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Well hello there.

It seems only fitting to accept it. My dress fitted, properly this time. The clasp hugged me around the bust, not shunning my ribcage. The hem only grazed the floor, instead of being dragged along: I wore osteoporosis with pride, and stood up that much straighter. I had taken off an Anorexic layer for the evening.

The impending party tore disorder through my day. 19:00 crept closer, pushing my routine further into disarray.
Suppertime took a direct hit. It is embedded between 7 and 8pm. Ellie had to extract it, and transplant it to 6:15. Anonymous only approved this operation because an early supper would rip my “afternoon pick me up” out of the day altogether. A week before the party, we had stitched together a plan.
It was a misjudged decision, with no get out clause. On the day of the party, Anonymous began to feed scraps of my shredded routine to Anxiety. By 2pm, with four hours left until reaching the summit, I stumbled. The ‘weeping waitress’ must be becoming a regular sight outside my work: I wonder why she has been sent home this time?
Anonymous smacked her lips, then spluttered. She had been far too greedy, and felt sick: bloated on too much time. Being sent home from work bought Ellie an extra hour to fill. She had no excuse not to stuff it with her “afternoon pick me up” – my afternoon snack had been resurrected. Our plan to restrict had split under the weight of that extra anxious hour.

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Milk for pre-drinks 🙂

Minutes melted by. I ticked tasks off my time plan: 4:30 – pack lunch for work tomorrow; 5:00 – afternoon pick-me-up; 5:15 fix hair; 5:20 fix hair again because it won’t sit tight; 5:40 – start preparing supper. My timetable supervised me from my pocket, and we checked on it every few minutes to make sure we were on schedule. It was the only morsel of reassurance I had as time dried up around me.

I made a meal of choosing what to eat. Every mouthful of soup poked Anxiety awake, gagging in horror as it caught sight of the clock. Calories flooded my mouth in an unstoppable stream. It was too early: this body won’t have been ready to intercept all that food. My cells would be caught off guard, and drowned. I felt my belly grow stiff. Bloating would betray me. The small swell of my stomach is a mark of refeeding: I can’t help it. Bloating is just something that happens to me. My tummy still parties hard when it receives sustenance, and that afternoon it began to raise it’s roof.
I swallowed soup with a side of air. Hiccups accompanied many trips to the bathroom.
I was so nervous.
I had been stitched up in a dress by fear.

We had gathered together the material to rise to the occasion. When I arrived at the party, I wrapped myself up in it.

I recognised four faces in the crowd: Everybody, Anybody, Somebody, and Nobody. Nobody knew Everybody, but Everybody had Somebody to talk to. Nobody left Anybody out. I was weary of Anybody who brandished a camera, and carefully held My Body away from them.
Somebody rounded up a group and introduced Everybody. Of course, Everybody was trying to impress Somebody.
“This is Somebody, they are graduating with first class honours this summer.”
“Everybody meet Somebody else, they have been travelling. Around Denmark.”
“Has Nobody met Anybody? They have just been recruited in the city of London.”
“And this is Ellie.”
I looked down, not able to look Anybody in the eye. Silence ripped through that delicate thing that held me together.
“Ellie writes a blog.” Everybody looked at me, whilst Nobody laughed. They were interested. What do you write about? I write a blog about Somebody called Anonymous, I said to Everybody. It’s for Anybody to read, but really Nobody has to.
Sparkling water was put on ice, and I felt the party grow around me. Anonymous waited for Somebody to say it: she waited for Somebody to say I looked “better”. Instead, Nobody did. It had been so long since Anybody had seen My Body next to Some other Body. What Everybody thought of My Body is Anybody’s guess.

Adrenaline was worn out by 9pm. The layers of noise became incarcerating: clinking glasses, breathy sighs, piercing laughs.
Nobody said it, but Everybody knew I had to leave. Exhaustion escorted me back to my car just as Somebody served platters of food. Everybody, please be seated.
I’m sorry, I have to leave. I’m Anorexic, remember?

My imagination had been left behind at the party. It was stuck there, walking around in someone else’s shoes. I had watched other people relish the joy of being healthy, felt hunger bring a lump to my throat.

At home, tears washed away the shreds of my patched up day. Ellie, you did it. So much effort went into making an appearance at that party. So much managed to fit into that dress.

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Anonymous, you are not in my circle of friends.