An Ode to Fear

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

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

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

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Oh yes I did!

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

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

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

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

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Ready to go!

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

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

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

Horizons

I kept my eyes on the horizon. Restrained by a seatbelt and a speed limit, I handed my attention into the nervous hands of Distraction. They held my gaze over the landscape. Bushes flaked away like scabs as forests melted into moorland. My phone glared in disapproval as I scrolled. Lorde and Ludovico flooded the space between my ears. My focus slipped over Woman’s Hour and was dropped between the pages of the Times. Jenni Murray had been jeering at me through my headphones: I’m sitting too. I was contained in a car burrowing deeper and deeper down that tarmac canal. I felt Anxiety shudder when I accidentally looked at the dashboard, and saw the time. All those seconds saturating all those minutes – hours – now drained away into my lap, and into my thighs.
Keep your eyes on the horizon, Ellie. You’re over halfway now.

It was crowded in there. The ransom of being allowed to travel sat next to me in a cool box, packed tightly next to myself and my overnight bag.

Anonymous had been baiting me with Anxiety as the date of our departure crept closer and closer. I had to sit with it. Ellie and Anonymous had struck a deal that would allow me to sit in the car for a long period of time, and it was being carried through. Everything was planned, the horizon already sealed off.

Opportunity was panting when I hit “submit” on the UCAS website. Drunk on my smoothie increase, I had committed Ellie to a series of battles designed to test her. If she survives, she may be able to take her place at Exeter University in September. That single click shook panic out of dormancy, and it began to snarl.

Looking into the future, I beheld the monstrosity Ellie had agreed to take on.
Hours of sitting was curled up in a bed made from fear. The pungent smell of inactivity choked me, sweating with the effort of staying still. Calories grew like warts over it’s time rotten hide. Fat pulsating as the car’s engine shuddered to a stop at traffic lights. Congested worry clogged up the roads and caused a jam.
Wait, there is more.
Anonymous beckoned me to the mouth of Fear’s lair, and there I saw it. Gravity was being ousted out of sight and the monster began to swell. I watched that greedy creature gobble up the time Anonymous had designated for movement: walking; standing; moving. It’s heaving breath tickled my legs and made them grow stiff. I was stuck like this: stuck between a rock and a crazy place.
I looked at the car journey, and asked what it wanted with Ellie. It began to foam at the mouth. Contorted with rage at my insolence, sound frothed from it’s lips. We couldn’t understand them: we couldn’t order the series of interrupted threats. I couldn’t work out what was so terrifying about that car journey. It just was.

Something is disturbing us, Ellie. Lets starve it out.

I responded to Anonymous. We sedated Anxiety by restricting my food. Had Ellie been allowed her meal plan, my Anorexia would have flared up. That’s the nature of the beast.

I met Anonymous halfway, and prepared all the food I would need for the trip. Pages of calculations was used as evidence for my Anorexic logic. Panic polluted thoughts clouded everything Ellie had been taught to recite in times of recovery hardship.
You need x no. cal to maintain your bodyweight.
Therefore, if you eat < x no cal …
Fact and fiction were chewed over and spat out in frustration. I cowered away from reason when I felt threatened. Everything became disordered. Problems were produced to fix a solution; interruptions conversed with denial; riddles revealed themselves in plain sight. Nothing made sense. Something was trying to trick me. Guided by the nervous hands of distraction, we managed to tiptoe through the trip.

When I arrived at midday, a wave of survivor’s guilt washed me out of the car. I felt contradiction rot into consequence: I hadn’t eaten enough. Anonymous cruised across familiar ground by starving me of food and feeding me words. It had felt so easy: we remembered every turning, every slippery spot. Mum and Dad praised me for winning the motorway battle, and Ellie shrank. You cheated.

Ellie blinked in the spring sunlight dancing off the harbour. Waves peeled off the sea and crept up the sand to greet me. The masts of a hundred yachts reached up to the cloudless sky, applauding it in the breeze. Salt frosted houses lined the weaving street, coloured pink, blue, stone and slate. People’s mouths sprang into smiles under beards, piercings and mouthfuls of pasty. I had been so terrified of the journey to Falmouth, I hadn’t been allowed to get excited about where I was actually going. The car journey’s enormous presence hadn’t let me see that I would wander across a beach with my parents, or be dragged down cobbled streets by my dog.

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It was magic.

Not being allowed to sit for long periods of time has meant that I have been contained by a small radius around my house: a seatbelt of disordered thoughts. Hope smelt salty, and delicious.
Oh Ellie, why haven’t you bought enough food. I ordered a glass of milk in a cafe, trying to atone for 48hours of restrictions. Nothing can compensate for effort.

It has taken me nearly two weeks to write this blog post, because I couldn’t face what I had done. The threat of the car journey still snarls, wounded but not slain. Waves of retrospective panic dump Ellie at Anonymous’ feet: what were you thinking? Sometimes, those billows lose momentum and drop back, defeated.
I remember Falmouth flirting with recovery, and the Exeter campus charming Ellie with it’s possibility of a life free from Anorexia. There was so much colour: societies; subjects; gardens and books – books with topics drowning each other out as they called from the library bookshelves. Conflicting, not contradicting.
I just sat in a car. Huh. Maybe one day, I’ll be able to sit in a lecture.

Regret sighs as I read this over. Ellie wants to be better, I just don’t want to get better. The journey is riddled with contradictions to the logic that doesn’t make sense, not while I let my brain shrink in hunger.
Ellie averts her eyes from the horizon, and focuses on the morsel of Anorexia she is gnawing away at presently. To navigate this journey through recovery, I just need to trust the horizon is there, and that hope is still breathing.

If anything, that trip gave me something to chew over, and now write about.

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I think Billy copes better in a car than I do!

Burnt Toast

The Eating Disorder Unit smells like burnt toast.
Secure doors throw open and embrace me into the waiting room. Sharp lights, purring phones, the shuffling of paper and slippered feet. And the stench of burnt toast.
A smell so pungent, it wakes the spectre of family breakfasts, flames in our Bombay kitchen and team briefings at the boathouse. I watch ghosts float down the hospital corridors, devouring slice after slice.
I sign my name in at 08:58. The dates have flipped and fallen away above my signature for a whole year. Welcome back, another week. Congratulations, you’ve made it to the end of another week. My Eating Disorder Unit smells like rotting time: it smells like an Anorexic feast.
I leave with lingering panic, and the smell of burnt toast.

Anonymous has stretched out my time in recovery. It has worn thin, and torn away from countless opportunities:
That media company who commissioned me to lead their mental health campaign frayed. I left a deadline dangling, because Anonymous wouldn’t let me sit long enough to produce any work. Torn fragments spent at my desk saw sentences dissolve into nonsense: I couldn’t get my synapses to sync. I was so hungry. Your time is up. Time to move.
That Russell Group University who gave me an unconditional offer, which I now have to turn down. Anonymous wouldn’t let me sit on a train to visit: it was such a long journey.
That job I was offered in a school, which Anonymous turned down in favour of my waitressing job. There is more exercise involved.
That phone call I didn’t pick up because it wasn’t part of my afternoon routine.
That firework display I couldn’t watch, because the cold air began to eat me.
I looked at the date next to my name, and breathed in burning bread.
How much more time are you going to feed to your illness, Ellie?

Anorexia can remember the future, and it is huge. From the archives of a starving brain, she plays out the disaster of weight gain, and relives the horrors of health.
As I eat, my stirring brain starts working thoughts to the surface of it’s wound. These heavy ones are called memories, and they have caused recovery to go stale.

I have been presented with a mouth watering opportunity: attend a coastal university to read English in September. Plump with juicy promise, it would mean I could leave my job, I could move out. I could begin again.
Opportunity ripens, but it is too far to pluck. Time puts heavy pressure on the doubts that are already shaking Ellie from her daze.
I looked at the date next to my name. It’s May. Surely, there must be more to look forward to than my next meal?

This week, Reality has reeled Ellie in after she spent so long delving into Anorexic archives. Here is my reality: I am Anorexic, and I struggle to function on a day to day basis.
I am surviving on rations. My greedy heart steals calories off my tongue so it can rattle blood past hollow bones. White and red specs bubble in plasmatic rhapsody, rushing to the aid of delirious organs. They move with exhaustion. Sometimes they slack, and the pressure drops. My spine screams in osteoporatic rage. I can’t afford to indulge energy on body heat, so my skin cracks and stains purple. My brain is a corrupt and nervous system being ravaged by two warring minds: I don’t see energy again after it disappears into that shrunken space. Anonymous splashes out on lavish panic attacks to celebrate Anxiety, whereas Ellie wastes concentration until it fuses, blowing thoughts out of proportion. Power surges are followed by instant blackouts. Only weight gain is going to solve this, Ellie.

Every whiff of burnt toast is a reminder from Anonymous that I will not restore weight in time to be allowed to leave the clinic. Every rusty note marks another week that I have dragged Anorexia through, and Ellie still hasn’t agreed to put on any more weight.
There is still plenty of time for you to get better, Ellie. Her whispering logic echoes in my stomach: one smoothie, and you’ll pile on the weight. I have been listening since January, and haven’t put on any weight since. I still haven’t seen any evidence to support my Anorexic logic.
You haven’t earned the right to learn.

Hope is precious, and neither Ellie nor Anonymous want to lose it. Instead they make me gamble away time on an empty promise of the future.
It is true that if I eat, there is a chance I will restore enough weight to be deemed medically fit to start university. It is also true that if I eat I will gain weight, and be left a half-formed but fed body. I will have used up my rationed time and be denied my right to learn.
The face of the future is scarred with this uncertainty, and it’s ugly grimace rattles my recovery to it’s core.

Don’t bite off more than you can chew, Ellie, you’re starving time. I break the day into chunks that are easy to swallow, making it harder to chew over the next one – and choke. This is taking my recovery tactics right back to it’s basics: not trying to reveal what is feeding Anonymous, but rather how to contain her until Ellie is strong enough to take her on.
I don’t have the energy to bear the emotional surge of looking forward, nor have I learnt how to look back without being blinded. Wait Ellie, one day at a time.
In one week alone, I have seen the benefits of moving the horizon closer. Anonymous denied me my smoothie increases since they were prescribed daily. This week, I turned my brain’s energy away from the doomed deadline of weight restoration, and instead focused on finding a small bite-sized win everyday. It has been a delicious week of attritious smoothie glugging.

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The smoothie is back the smoothie is back!! (I call this one “GreenGoddess” – that’s me!)

I can’t call what tomorrow’s weigh-in will provoke in Ellie and Anonymous, but that is for tomorrow. I’m just savouring this chunk of today, I must not think about tomorrow yet.

This blog is a collection of small chunks in my recovery. This is not the long story of my battle with Anorexia: that cannot be condensed into a single chapter. Rather, let it be that this is the tale of Ellie, and her win of the week. A manageable moral, not a myth.

I left my clinic last week with the warm smell of burnt toast lingering in my nostrils. The smell of possibility: something so delicious could come in time. Prepare for the best in everyday Ellie, not the worst in the future.
Not university in sight yet, but a smoothie.

Of Mind and Matter

I tore my eyes away from their lips. They were twisting and twitching, with wrinkles rippling over their plump surface. Words tumbled off their tongue and all over the table. The art of conversation was graffiti over this: Anonymous’ final meal of the day. I looked down at it, and felt my jaw grow stiff. Panic paralysed me mid-chew, and the pulp in my mouth began to sour. Stop. I’m losing it. Somewhere in this conversation, I’ve lost track of my food.
I chased confusion from plate to face to plate to fork – trying to catch up with it. I heard humming topics choke and drown under the buzz of sharpened senses. They sliced the scene into fragments: the fume of food, the flare of candlelight, the fug that had tricked me into distraction. The warmth of company began to burn.
Concentrate.
I counted the chunks of sweet potato; one, two, four. Now the salmon, size up the – oh. Oh the ratio is all wrong. You ruined the ratios Ellie. You’ll never achieve an even bite; there isn’t enough kale to cover four flakes of fish. It’s too late, and it’ll be over too quick.
You might as well not have eaten. It had been blissful: I was so busy savouring sweet, lingering words. I had barely noticed the carbs and calories that had flushed down my throat unseen.
Anonymous snarled from the dregs on my plate: What a waste. 

Anorexia and I live in a place called Control. It located in the suburbs of Living. The sun doesn’t set and plunge me into blind uncertainty, nor does it rise to coax change into bloom. In Control, Anonymous keeps me safe from the tropical temptations that lie waiting in the wilderness. Food is a fool to think it can wander aimlessly into Anorexia’s lair.
It is caught and recorded: g; %RDA; kcal. Nothing will reach my lips without passing the scales first. In Control, I never lick the spoon after serving my yogurt. Precision is moreish. I am especially careful when there are grapes in the house. Grapes can cause a leak.
Food must then be tagged and categorised, to ensure there is no over-indulgence of one nutrient. Ellie is not allowed turmeric in her porridge in the morning if she plans to make spiced soup in the evening. It’s not allowed, because I am in Control.
After food has been committed to, Anonymous starts to manipulate it. Anorexia knows how to restrain me into satiety. Everything from utensil size, food shape and fibre content grooms food into submission. Ellie has to talk me into eating an energy ball as I promised, because I can’t measure the pace with which it is consumed. How on earth does one cut up a ball?
Control is a lonely place. Its borders hug me closely, and there never seems to be room for anyone else. Anonymous warned me that other people dilute Anorexia’s acidic concentration. Eating meals at the table together tears holes in my boundaries and exposes the power I cannot catch. Anorexia squeezes my parents to plate up in time to meet my deadline. She stares down wandering eyes over my plate. She dares people to venture out of her control by pushing me under it.
My illness will calculate the risk of another person’s company. Buried under Control, Ellie can’t meet people if they infect time designated for Anorexia’s rituals to celebrate Self-Control. What if I am made to sit? What if they try and make me fat?
My illness controls people, and so I avoid them.

Mind and Matter are walking hand in hand across this plateau of Recovery, trying to drag each other down. My doctors remind me in every session that a semi-starved brain is weak. It is weak, therefore it latches onto strength to make it feel safe. Nature forces me to listen to Anonymous. I really need her to like me.

Recovery is trying to hijack Ellie, and take her on a joyride out of Control. There is a presence out there. Sometimes it lurks in the bottom of an empty bowl. I think It is called Choice.
Choice never comes into Control voluntarily. It is swept in amongst festered emotion and fragmented hopes and dreams: the debris that bleeds out of the wounds inflicted by Recovery. Feeding my Matter has addled the strong Mind that introduced me to Anonymous. The longer Ellie lets time stretch, the thinner her resistance wears. I have noticed how much harder some things have become that were easy a few months ago.

A foreigner arrived this week, called the Flu. I had promised Anonymous I would never get ill. I promised I wouldn’t let it’s propaganda indoctrinate my matter into defying my mind. Denying Flu was easy at first, it’s symptoms felt somewhat comical in the context of starvation. Willpower leaked when time stretched and tore.
My body failed me.
Anonymous snarled. She recognised him as a friend of the weak. We are not weak. We will not rest, not for the sake of Flu.
This is not a choice, but the animal instinct of an illness.

Mind over Matter, Ellie.
Push yourself. 

I have never studied the floor at work before. It’s rather blurry, which is just as well. Those funny shapes and grimy smears trodden into the tiles have always had an air of mystery about them which I am only too happy to sustain. I don’t really want to know what they are.
Up close, things are a bit more black and white. I can fixate on the small things: like my trembling knees that had failed me in such a spectacular manner. My weak body was somewhere out of Control. By collapsing, it had completely contradicted Anonymous and called her a liar.
Mind over Matter, Ellie. Nobody has seen you, you could carry on.
The scales fell away from my eyes. I left work early, instead of completing a day’s exercise. I chose to listen to a voice made stronger by the nourishment of reason. It spoke to my mind and my matter. Ellie must be right: I cannot control someone’s choice to make me a victim. Not another Mind, not Anonymous, not even the Flu.

Ellie would never choose to waste me, this brain, on a rancid Mind. Anorexic concentration is acidic, and it eats into choices I never thought I would have.
Choosing to break her “oil” rule and roast some roots; choosing to sit when my heart fluttered and faltered – faded
only for a moment, because I sat; choosing to have a friend over at suppertime and enjoy her company.

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My first ever roasted (!) sweet potato!

Choosing feels gluttonous, because I am doing it for me. I am doing it for my Mind and Matter.
This is not a choice, but the animal instinct of a survivor.

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Be like Billy.

Strength Testing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cold hands, warm heart

Loneliness has cold hands.
In the winter of Anorexia they have been cracked and blistered, gnawed until raw by the frosty bite of neglect. Ellie is always surprised by their strength.
As I wrap my fingers around this pen, I watch bloodless crevices rip over my knuckles, and fraying shreds of feathery skin litter the cradle of my palm.
Loneliness has no expectations. No seeds of doubt or suspicion are sown, and no plump clumps of self consciousness are harvested. It is desolate, but safe. Anonymous encourages Ellie to let these tortured hands guide her into hibernation, because Anorexia relies on lonely: it is part of her history.

This time of year is hard.
I felt the leaves curl into corpses and shiver off the trembling branches. I felt the fragile sunlight trip under the darkened skyline. I felt the breath of frost cast over the twinkling Christmas lights.
Facing the cold when I am already shivering is hard.
Enjoying the warmth of company when I am burning in furious paranoia is hard.
Sitting through a carol service when restlessness stole the pleasure of heavenly peace is hard.
The weather outside is frightful, and Christmas is proving terrific in it’s plight to thaw Ellie out.

Holding the hand of lonliness, I am often tempted to hide.
I cancel plans last minute, foolishly believing Anonymous that only her company will bring me comfort.
Friends smell of spring, and Anonymous panics. What if they tell me I “look well”? Surely, that means I look recovered? Fat even? That I must be a fake? That this illness isn’t there?
“Well” means none of these things, Ellie.
With only Anorexia as company, “well” is only a controlled cycle that begins and ends in winter.

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In June …
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… and now. I’ve come a long way.

Let us take a moment to admire the darling buds of recovery that are peeping out of the cracks in the ice:

This sprig here grew when I actually managed to go to that carol service, venturing outside after dark. A month ago, I had to leave fireworks night before the torches were even lit: I was so tired, and so cold.

This bud sprouted when I ate my soup at the table as my family devoured a succulent, steaming roast. I didn’t panic about the greasy aroma wafting around the dining room. We shall call that a practice run for Christmas day.

This shoot is particularly fresh: I went on a date. Quite an achievement for someone who is barren of desire but brimming with nerves.

This seed has a plumage of proud petals: I received an offer from the University of York to begin studying there next year. These roots of recovery are anchored deep into the ground, slowly squeezing Anonymous dry. I never want to go back to Manchester university: it is full of ghosts. This would be a fresh start, a sign of spring.

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Win of the week: using oil again!

Before we finish this horticultural spectacle, allow me to explain this tomato stained shrub here. It marks the spot where an unbroken rule was breached: don’t throw food at Anorexics. (This is not an endorsement.)
I was caught in a crossfire during a food fight at work (don’t ask), which resulted in a gleaming, grease coated tomato to land on my left shoulder with a sticky squelch.
Alas: I didn’t look down and scream. I didn’t look down at all, nor did I hear the shrill cursing of Anonymous, telling me the calories would diffuse through my skin – I think she was more taken aback than Ellie was.
Instead, I stripped on the spot.

Like loneliness, recovery battles are strong but brittle. I must confess my failure to win a war I have been waging for 3 weeks: that of the forbidden fruit.
Full, fleshy and ripe bulges blush in the fruit bowl. Apples with fine stretched skin; shining zests of oranges and smooth leathery bananas. Even a pomegranate, crimson and glowing.
Ellie loves fruit. Even Anonymous can tolerate it during wartime.
So, when asked by my nutritionist: why won’t I eat that “extra” portion? Why do I find it so hard to sink my teeth into something so submissive? Why am I filled with shame when confronted by these bursts of nectar?

It is the word “extra”. T’is the season to be “extra”.
Indulgence and anticipation saturates the air of Christmastime, and there is expectation to be “extra”.
I am “extra” nervous, “extra” restless, and “extra emotional.
When gathered in a crowd, Ellie feels “extra” distanced. I will not let the frosty bite of shame silence my tongue that is crying out for fruit. With the excitement of Christmas, I am “extra” on edge, and “extra” thankful.

Thank you, for helping me get to see Christmas with my family, and with my friends. I didn’t think I would make it this far, and I am so grateful to be home.

Merry Christmas, with love from Ellie xx

String Theory

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Hello, and welcome to Monday clinics.

“Imagine a piece of string.”
Here we go. Alright, piece of string in mind.
“Focus only on that piece of string.”
“Allow your thoughts to drift. Notice how fluidly they move through time.”
That’s because time knows it’s being wasted.
“Hold the string between your fingers.”
Impossible, but ok.
“Focus on what the string looks like.”
A mess. Just like everything else in here.
“Focus on what the string feels like.”
For heaven’s sake.
“Notice whilst you focus on the string, your thoughts are allowed to drift.”
Thank you, string, for your permission.
“As you experience this moment, no reaction and no judgment is needed.”
Bare judgement for dictatorial string.
Time to let this one go, I think. Focusing on the moment is not harnessing me out of the catastrophe of the future. Perhaps it simply isn’t for me.

Anorexia is about obedience, not beauty.
Anonymous is racial. She judges on sight not sense: all I see is black and white. What I think I see, is what is.
Thinking is a reckless occupation, and I am tethered to extremity.
There seems to be magic in food: it is giving Ellie the reigns to think.
Ah, but here is a problem. I can’t hold them. There are too many strings attached too many feelings attached to too much. Anonymous anticipates this is the future: “too much”. So she begins to tug at them.

Meals tangle me in a war on time.
I won’t eat lunch if I miss my lunch “time”.
The gap of opportunity draws nearer but wracks my nerves deeper. I’m going to miss it, tug I’m going to miss it. Tug.
You missed it. You’re too late. Tug.
You’ll have to do without.
I have cried too many times at work because I know I have been given my break too late, and I know I won’t eat. I know a hunger high will creep up on me and rip the threads of thought from my grip. I know this because I can see it: in black and white. The predictability of an unseen future.

Tug.

Ordering a coffee has become an ordeal: I am a barista’s worst nightmare.
I watch their every move as they perform behind the coffee machine. Wipe the spout; slam the buttons; pour, pour, drip.
Tug. “Is that milk really skinny? Check.”
Anonymous has to track the movement of milk from carton to jug to mug, or I shan’t drink it. A nerve will be plucked if I am distracted, because I am sure I will have missed the slip of a finger that laces the coffee with fat malice. Tug. I’ll be forced to walk away, leaving the steaming cup free and untouched on the table.

Anonymous’ twitching fingers are still dangling me from my strung up nerves. We haven’t lost our touch: in wartime, we can still perform self control.

The science is simple: my body literally has no way of defending itself. Ellie has to react by seeing the threat in everything.
I can’t hear pity when I look for criticism.
I can’t experience comfort if I am weary of pain.
I can’t see sense when I look for it, because it has become tangled in a web of confusion. I am clutching at straws, trying to remember what you’re meant to do with pride, with discomfort, with worry.
The power surges of adrenaline are violent tug thunderous with rage that Ellie let them be starved out for so long. Tug.
My mind’s eye has been blinded by sharp stabbing hormones, and I can’t recognise a single feeling Ellie hurls at me.
Everything is just a tangle of flashing black and white warnings; hazards; triggers. And so much tugging.

I need help eating away at these strings, I need help slackening the leash around Ellie. Every new challenge I am presented with jerks me out of control. An increase – tug – a weigh in –tug– a grumpy customer –tug–  or a loud noise.
My doctor turned to me at my clinic this week, looked into the eye of this tangled mess, and told me she trusted me. She said she knows I want to recover Ellie.
I really, really want to help Ellie.
To do that, I need to learn to be nice. I need to recover her, not entice her.

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Anorexia isn’t glamorous, so please excuse the hairy legs. They keep me warm!

I did something brave this week: I had a bath. Anonymous hates baths: just the thought of a steamy session of wallowing in fragrant peace sends her into a flaming fury.
But I did it, and it felt nice. That much I could recognise and handle.

Nobody thinks straight: strings of thought are too flimsy. They snake around us protectively in reaction to what we see, or think we see.
I am not trying to straighten out my thinking patterns, just liberate them.
If I can relax these strings of obedience they will look like guidelines, not lifelines.