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.

IMG_5920
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.

IMG_5860
(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.

IMG_5770
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.

IMG_5767
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.

19225466_10211571903191929_4161852559534225090_n
Anonymous, you are not in my circle of friends.

An Ode to Fear

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

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

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

IMG_5502 copy
Oh yes I did!

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

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

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

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

IMG_5619.JPG
Ready to go!

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

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

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

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.

IMG_5591
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.

IMG_5446
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.

IMG_4824
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.

IMG_5350
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.

IMG_5204
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.

img_4958
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.