Bright On

A line of ulcers tell the tale of my weekend away. As the train neared the coast and the day melted on the streets of Brighton, I bit my lip. Every word in my head throbbed and ruptured, one swollen worry after another.
Every ulcer bulged over an anorexic boundary. Each one a scar from a battle raging behind my blinking eyeballs.

For just one night, she wanted to step out of Control. Ou of the never ending cycle of food, school, food, bed; out of the four walls of this house that press my empty inbox against my face. Out of character and out of excuses, Ellie decided we needed to go away, and get out of Control.
Brighton was a realistic target. An eclectic seaside town would doubtless be full of people to watch, meaning I would be unlikely to get bored and turn on myself for entertainment. Brighton is close by: only an hour or so on the train. Anonymous can handle trains, she can stand trains, and on them.
I wanted to examine myself and my progress under a harsher light. There would be no home comforts to hide behind, no easy escape from any triggers.
The point of this trip was sharp and threatening. A serrated edge to dissect just how much of myself could cope in difficult conditions.

I named the main 3 Brighton ulcers: Food, Comfort, and Komedia.
These worries oozed threateningly, slipping around on thick layers of sticky anorexic panic.
There are smaller tears on my lips surrounding each ulcer, like little moons orbiting three central problems. They’re known as “Inactivity”; “Timing”; “People”.

The most grisly worry about going away was, of course, Food. The F word.
I could feel this ulcer forming from the moment I recklessly hit “confirm” on the National Rail website all those weeks ago. I wanted my meals planned as early as my rail ticket.
The very thought of eating out not just once, not twice, but four times in 48 hours was simply ridiculous. My anorexic eyes stung each time I looked to the future, and saw those meals coming. It was grotesque, unthinkable. Lost too far beyond the borders of Control.
Despite trawling websites and menus from the safety of my bedroom, the food in Brighton remained elusive. I got on a train to meet a stranger on my plate.

Brighton is an eclectic pocket of the UK.
Vibrant vegetarian cafes; a grid of lanes fallen under a vegan siege; locally produced platters of only the finest and freshest foods. There were so many areas of opportunity to try new things, way out there: out of Control.
Anonymous saw the food for what it was. At least, she nestled into the gaping holes next to each item, and filled it with her own list of ingredients and nutrient information. She feels around on the inside, still entirely in Control.

In my head, the calorie inflation rate rockets the further from home I go.
A tablespoon of homemade hummus costs fewer calories than a dollop of alien hummus.
An exact tablespoon of homemade hummus costs less anxiety than someone else dumping liberal amounts on my plate.
Homemade hummus is stiff and lumpy, which is characteristic of it’s sparing olive oil content. The hummus out there, out of Control, looks like velvet. A cloud of soft spread wobbling slightly at the touch, skin spotless and smooth. This hummus would be heathen. One can almost see too much tahini. The scent of garlic ripens and permeates with obvious additives.
I tread carefully around food when it has been prepared without anorexic supervision. Avoidance has simply been a way of delaying the inevitable, which is what I was faced with in Brighton. Eventually, I was always going to cross that line, and taste forbidden hummus.

I arrived and cursed Instagram for planting false expectations in my head.
“Vegetarian food” was ripping off the weight loss trade and tipping over the edge of indulgence. Slabs of gooey gluten-free cake, tottering towers of coconut ice cream, grains glazed in thick dressings and quivering mounds of hummus. Beads of chickpeas in salads; greens smothered under a thick tahini layer; thick wedges of bread with lashings of avocado; seed-studs like bullet holes.
It seemed each deli was attempting to outdo the next with their plant based platters. Anonymous was wrong to assume they’d be in the business targeting weight loss markets.
The servers themselves floated behind the counters, piling generous portions onto people’s plates. A bit of this and a bit of that. Their eyes were glazed over, dilated.

Nowhere was safe.
Even a humble bowl of soup could not be had without a twirl of cream or fistful of nuts. Everything was being served on huge plates, tantamount to small cauldrons. This was dangerous territory for an anorexic. Unnecessary calories grew like a tumour on every meal.
I had a choice: risk being snared by calories, or almost certainly passing out in a strange city. It is with pride that I tell you Ellie’s voice shouted louder, and Anonymous was resolved to try and eat something.

So it was that I haunted the North Lanes for over two hours, chewing over what I could eat.
My ulcer throbbed for every second wasted: I was running out of time. Lunchtime would soon be over.
I peered into every eatery in Brighton, scrutinising the menu and adding up the calories. I occasionally entered, and fascinated over other people’s plates. Tongues twisted flat breads into dough sculptures. The food was unreal, ridiculous. One deli actually let me stand around the counter, and watch them assemble a Buddha Bowl.

Before my eyes something beautiful was born.
A layer of crunch leaves, shredded beetroot, juicy plump tomatoes. Then grains rained down in clumps, glued together by a thick dressing. A scoop of dhal cushioned the salsa and stopped the juices bleeding into the hummus. It’s velveteen layer bristled with a final handful of herbs.

Anonymous watched apprehensively. There was so much food for so small a meal. I backed out of the door.
By now, Anxiety was beginning to snap at my heels. The familiar panic that I wasn’t going to get anything to eat started to set in. The chase was on, and Ellie ran back to that deli. It was their kindness that saved me, I think.

Ellie ordered a Buddha Bowl and Anonymous ordered adjustments: leave off that, only a tiny bit of this. No, no dressing thank you.
She clawed lunchtime back under her control and installed me in a window seat.
I watched the world go by through the condensation. Such a busy world going so far, so fast. How difficult it is to keep up.

When my first meal out in Brighton was finally set down before me, Ellie was gagging for it. Even Anonymous can’t talk with her mouth full of anticipation. I picked up my fork – then dropped it in horror.
It was huge. The long prongs rang as it fell with a clatter, and it bared it’s enormous fangs in a metallic grimace.
At home, I eat with small cutlery. I only eat with small cutlery, because Anonymous can only take small bites. It’s how she controls how much I eat. On what planet can one shovel food into their mouth with such a contraption as this? How does it even fit between one’s lips?
I looked around for a teaspoon, but none could be found. Tentatively, Ellie picked up her fork and plunged it into the quinoa. Small bubbles clung to the prongs, then settled on my ulcer. That was my first anxious bite.
Ellie worked her way around the plate, small servings belittled by this giant fork. It seems I swallowed my dignity along with my food: moments after finishing the last mouthful, I began lapping up the dressing with my finger. Oily skid marks smeared my smile, and residue was all over my ulcers. It was delicious.

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Well hello there

I chewed over my first food ulcer long after lunch had finished. I was haunted by that giant, quivering dollop of hummus.
Even examining the photographs I had taken didn’t offer any answer to that one, biting question: how many calories was it worth?
I couldn’t shake this feeling that I had done something terrible, something unthinkable. Something so out of character, and out of Control.
My next meal would be important: it would dictate how much energy I’d have to get through the rest of the night. It would assure Ellie that this gamble was still a good idea.
I cannot remember what I did to pass the time between lunch and supper. I had to redo the whole thing the next morning, after the climax of breakfast. My mind was in my mouth, chewing over where my next meal would come from.
The ulcer began to swell under time pressure. I grappled with supper and reused my lunch plan the next day.

I managed my food. I ate my food. In some respects, it was an interesting experiment that showed eating out alone is far less stress-inducing than eating out with other people. On my own, I’m only responsible for how I feel.
On their own, each meal would have been an average challenge. Collectively, they were enormous.
The uncertainty lasted 36 hours, and that is an enormous mouthful of time for Anxiety to swallow.

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Flowers make everything better, even breakfast!

Whilst calories infected one ulcer, cleanliness did the next.
The longer I lingered out of my house, the more dirt gathered together, weighing me down. It was one aspect of going away I hadn’t considered, and it was a shock to discover how much I struggled with feeling dirty. Simply because the unfamiliar is filthy.

This ulcer is rancid.
Sweat, skin, cheap shots, sex, second-hand air. The salty sea air seasoned the fug of hangovers, urine, and fried food. This seaside party town was sweating under the strain of stag dos and cigarettes. The pavements wept gum and greasy wrappers, tears of beer bleeding into the gutter. There was no air to dry out the damp. Instead, it became a moist blanket thrown over the layers of other people.
I inhaled other people. Anonymous kept catching whiffs of people: fat, drunk, high. She was utterly terrified, knowing her anxiety did not make her immune to catching the calories rising off another person’s plate.

Anonymous’ existence is sterile, carefully executed in clean, calm Surrey. My environment is a sanctuary to which I retreat to avoid any anxiety triggers, like drugs and alcohol.
Away from home, I was suddenly cut off from the support network my parents give me. I was alone, drowning in this sordid world.

Everything in Brighton had been touched.
A million grubby fingers had held that handrail, this fork, sat in that chair and pressed that button. Anonymous felt as though Ellie was forcing me into another person’s shoes, squeezing me into another person’s habits by exposing me to them at close range.
Every chair was weary from supporting too many people. I could catch other people simply by breathing the same air as them, I knew it.
A single fingerprint on a mirror flashed a thousand possible people I might turn into, if I wasn’t more careful.

Anxiety settled on my skin in a layer of sweat. Dust and dirt mingled into a grimy layer. The shower at the youth hostel only added to it. The bathroom was dripping in other people’s dirt, humid and heavy. I smelt drugs in the air and felt them burrow into my pores. Here in my head, anorexia felt a shift in my metabolism.

I did what I could to ward off anxiety with a small bottle of hand sanitiser, some wet wipes, and distraction. The ease with which other people passed in and out of public loos was fascinating to watch.
This was a culture grown out of Control. It flourished in the warm climes of friendship and relationships.
Perhaps that is what I was missing, perhaps company was integral to breaking a fear of other people.

Anonymous was careful not to touch anything, lest she catch any calories, or any fattening habits.

She was cheered by the fact I had to squat each time I used the bathroom (which is quite frequent during weight restoration). The extra seconds of exercise burned my thighs with anorexic satisfaction. It was such a relief to finally be able to nestle my bottom on the friendly seat at home.

Going away was only the mouth of the rabbit hole: the youth hostel I had booked into would be the real test of Anonymous tolerance.
I gaped when I entered the dorm. Not sure what, or who, to make of it.
A pair of flip flops, a hairdryer, a couple of crumpled Topshop bags. An empty Starbucks cup with no name scrawled on it’s side. A wet towel melted into the carpet. A warning sign of 5 unmade bunks, with their duvets twisted into grotesque polyester sculptures.

All but one mattress was claimed by a stranger.
I locked my bag in the empty cubby hole and inspected the bathroom. Youth Hostels are functional and hospitable, just not entirely to anorexia’s taste.
The empty beds were the most biting issue. The absence of their hosts haunted my imagination, and filled it with bogeymen.

I cowered behind Margret Atwood, hiding from the drunken drawls creeping through the window. The first emerged shortly before midnight, a chatty Texan who could drown out the noise from the nightclub next door.
Every spike of ecstasy from outside stabbed ice into the pit of my stomach, and I try not to remember. Revulsion rises like bile with the roar of merriment.
Later that night, when I was cocooned in recycled sheets and feigning sleep, I heard the other roommates prowl into the room, one by one.
They silently diffused into bed in the dark, not even turning on their reading lights. They shut the window on the drunken night outside, and settled into easy sleep.

Out of the fug, I salvaged pockets of sleep: 25 mins here and there. A bit of this and a bit of that.
At 3am, the bunk above creaked threateningly as my cumbersome bunk buddy ascended the ladder. Anxiety gnawed at me to get out of there sharpish: the bed would surely collapse, and I would be crushed. I’m still not sure why I stayed.
Anorexia tried to spring me from my bunk too. As the slept, my dorm mates became musical. Their bodily functions syncronised and the air was thick with with harmonised farts, burps, barfs. A cloud of skin, sweat and food descended. One had clearly had a liquid dinner, and there was the definite stench of cheesy chips. The signature scent of student halls, I remember that one well. Airbourne calories stalked me in my slumber, and backed my nose and mouth behind my hand. I was too afraid to move, just in case the fat gobules floating in the air would rush towards me and pounce.
Instead, I wrapped myself in these slutty sheets, like the hundreds of other guests thrust upon this bed before me.

The night shed it’s slippery skin slowly, but soon it was morning. I awoke with relief, and a mouth full of ulcers.
I crept around my right to get up, and tiptoed out of the room. Ellie pondered on this behaviour over breakfast. The way I melted into the wall, the way I was careful not to be spotted, lest my presence stagnate my dorm mates’ fluid fun. The thought that I could even have been responsible for it in the first place.

Do not pity me. Anorexia is not a sympathetic character, and Ellie did this to herself. She took control and hurled me out of it. This is a tale warranting not pity, but pride.
It is with pride I present to you the final Brighton ulcer: Komedia. A concentration of triggers bulging before anxiety. Let’s lance the boil.

By 5:30pm on Saturday, I was crawling up Regent street. The sun was finally settling down onto the cloudy skyline, and the first part of my journey was nearly over. Ahead of me was a long lonely night. The hours were empty aside from the inevitable scarpering of sleep at the slightest noise. And there would be noise: the air was hotting up to receive the Saturday night fever.

Nightlife has two strains.
The first can induce pleasure among those susceptible to it, the other brings anxiety. The dark hours are dampened by sweat and encourage the growth of alarming behaviour. Noise seeps through the streets like mould. The spores were already being released: pubs spilled out onto the streets, hairspray gassed the hostel corridors, and anticipation condensed against my eyes.
By 5:30pm, I still had no plan how to navigate through the next few hours out there, away from Control.

All the anorexic-tolerant delis would shut at 6: an hour before suppertime, and half an hour from now.
Triggers were beginning to cat-call over another foaming pint. The night beckoned time to a slow shuffle. It was going to be a long night if I didn’t come up with some means of distraction from the world around me, and within me. I needed somewhere to hide for the next few hours. I also needed food; something to starve off anxiety, but also feed that part of myself that had dragged me here in the first place.

Right on cue, Ellie spotted a sign in the street. One thing led to another, and I drew up a plan.
By 6, I was no longer clutching at straws, but a ticket to a stand up comedy night, and a salad box bought just before closing time. Ellie chewed on her lentils, leaves and ulcers, listening to my rules crack between her teeth.
A comedy night, on a Saturday night, after dark, in Brighton. You’re joking, right?

Well, we’re down this crazy rabbit hole now, Ellie. We’re eating supper far too early and are out far too late. How much more can you take? Let’s lance this boil, and see what happens. Let’s watch your rancid fears splatter out of Control.

I installed myself in the furthest booth from the stage. It was a dark corner, but was spared having to endure a long night next to a couple doing a risqué performance of their own a few tables away. From here I could make a quick escape through the fire exit, but also watch other people’s sticky nights unfold and take flight, beer in hand.

Anonymous flinched each time she glimpsed my watch. It was so late to be out alone.
I felt myself biting on a smaller ulcer, the one formed when I realised how much I missed being home.
Anonymous wasted no time in telling Ellie she could be curled up with her dog at this time. She needed have said anything; Ellie was thinking it too. Clubs were never really her scene.
Now, I realise it wasn’t home I was missing as such – it was me. A home for my self.

The air was heavy, rubbing up and into my pores.
Alcohol spiked the air. Steely, sugary sickness rose into my nostrils as the gaffs kept coming. The lights flashed and microphones boomed. Airborne calories pulsed with the stereos. It was an assault that I am honestly shocked to have survived.
There were too many triggers for Anxiety to grapple with at once. My mind simply couldn’t spend too much time chewing on one before the next was rammed down her throat. I struggled to swallow the scene before me.

At 9pm, we retreated. I wormed m way out onto the street, and ran back to the hostel. Neon lights and car horns lead me back to the main road without me even having to glance at my map, I just trusted the world around me to help.
I expected Anxiety to stalk me from the dark alleys, but there were just too many people. Too many lights.
I haven’t been out of the house so late for a very long time, of course I felt exposed.

I slumped back in my chair. As I spat the final mouthfuls of my tale out into the cool, unmoving hospital air, my nurse smiled.
“I’m proud of you,” she said. The words felt nice. I repeated it in my head, over and over. I’m proud of you.
“You’ve got so much potential, Ellie.”
Yeah, I guess I have. Maybe I should start to believe it.

Brighton exposed Anxiety to the world Anorexia tries to hide me from. It was interesting to watch it fend for itself out there, out of Control. In some respects, it was easier to control than it is at home. At home it has various lairs in which it wallows: my cutlery, my quiet. Me, me, me. Away, Anxiety just didn’t know what to settle on. There was so much for it to feast on, it became sick, but dragged me up to dizzying heights in alarm.

I was very anxious in Brighton.
I was frightened of the food, and alarmed by the air assaults of smells and sounds. The clamour of lives clashing in the streets broke one moment and passed it on to the next. Time was told by anticipation for what trigger would arrive next.
It was a struggle just to escape my own head, but there were pockets of time when my mind was free to wander, and follow Brighton’s enticing features.
Yes, it was uncomfortable.
The electric thrill of not knowing what was going to happen next buzzed in my bloodstream. It burned like salt rubbing into a wound, an ulcer perhaps.

Only by pushing myself, did I realise I still had the capacity to cope, and to enjoy in spite of endurance. I need not be taught how to fend for myself, merely revise it.

In Brighton, I discovered the world’s best hummus, my sense of humour, and confidence.
This trip was worth the calories. It has taken a while so come down from the high, but I can look back and stroke the ulcers fondly with my tongue.
I will take the Bright on. May it bleed into the next few weeks.

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What a mouthful that story was.

Stretch Marks

Progress is hideous.

I’ll see it in the mirror, catch an ugly feature protruding towards me from the glass. Progress grips my legs between it’s purple fingers. It squeezes swollen veins up to the surface where they throb buoyant on layers of whitening blubber.

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Up a size now aren’t I!

Skin bulges out of the top of my bra, the straps struggling to contain this heaving, heavy flesh. Thighs leer at each other, and are leaning in for a kiss. Parts of me try to move independently from the bones of my body: arms flap, jowls quiver and giggle, my belly balloons and floats through the rest of the day, high on food. A voluptuous smile parts the pouches of my cheeks, and sallow skin is flooded by a blush. Beads of sweat jewel my face when the weather turns warm, like medals to celebrate the return of some body heat.

Anonymous is sometimes masked under layers of make-up. Cakey and indulgent, moist, melt-in-the-mouth. A single spray of perfume freezes her presence in other people’s eyes. Chanel makes her choke, Jo Malone is itchy. The stench of effort fills the air with the fume of progress: for here self respect can spawn everyday, if it is left to.

Stretch marks the spot. And here were can join my spots: dot-to-dot, we can draw the conclusion that my hormones are on their way back.
They’re coming.
Pimples rupturing in greasy cavities between my nostrils, fat pustules moulded over with flaked yellow pus. And on these hormones rage: words tingle on my tongue as a tantrum brews. Out they burst volcanic fury, casting my thoughts and feelings all over the place.
It is exhausting being all over the place: there are too many out of reach things to mind, and I can’t quite stretch far enough to real them in. Instead, these ugly thoughts and alien feelings simmer, stoked by rising hormone levels and panic. Complete and utter panic: for they break the banks of what I can cope with. I can’t stretch far enough to manage all this, all this feeling, and thinking.
There is so much of me now, I just can’t seem to hold it all together.

Yes, my mirror tires me out.

Any reflection on my recovery is utterly exhausting: it glares at the future, waiting for something to happen. It is not Progress that strains me, but my reaction to it. I find myself constantly over stretching myself to meet some mark of approval from either Anonymous, or Ellie.

Progress is not the only distressing thing Recovery has dragged up. My mirror image, the picture of my present, is bored and lonely. Tired, and fed up.

Triggers have sharpened to a knife edge and attack me with ease, for I am a bigger target now.
A car door slams and a fox cries; a hundred murmuring voices press me into the walls of an art gallery. Protecting myself from an anxiety attack is haphazard, and doesn’t work the way anorexia does. Retreating into the next room to punch a pillow, or reciting Alt-J doesn’t have the same numbing effect anonymous did when she wiped me off Life’s landscape.
There are some things I can do on an anxious come down: A darkened room, cocooned in a duvet. White lights, and black coffee. Relief splashed like cold water. She makes the sound the sound the sea makes,
to calm me down.

I am all over the place, and that is not a sight for my sore eyes. I keep leaving bits of myself behind. I’ll forget my concentration and leave it at the breakfast table, still chewing over whether or not that tablespoon was too heaped.
My attention slips out of reach and stumbles into tomorrow already. Today means nothing when tomorrow is still up for grabs.
I fumble through the one coffee date I’ve had with a friend for months. I lost thread of the conversation as soon as anorexia began counting down the seconds until I had to stand again.

The only human beings I have actual interactive contact with outside the children I teach at school are my parents, the postman, and that pervy dog-walker with the one-eyed spaniel. Company is a basic human need of which I am literally starving.
I haven’t had a real conversation with anyone my own age in months.
There are many reasons for this, each as frustrating as the next.
Only one of them could be under my control.

I have spent too long locked in my own head.
Recently, I have been over-stretching myself attempting to meet up with other people. I’ve been pushing myself into texts, trying to tempt anyone to meet me. I hadn’t anticipated that the hardest part would be writing a text compelling and desperate enough for them to simply reply, rather than just scrolling on by.
Needless to say, my progress has been moving too slowly for some, and they have moved on and left me behind. Which is fine. I’m not hurt at all. At least, that’s not a feeling that means all that much to me anymore.
Badgering people to see me did pay off in some circumstances. A visit from my godmother and supper with my Grandparents were breaths of fresh air. My brother came home for a brief visit and resuscitated some will to live, even if that air blows in different anxieties. I met a friend for coffee and struggled to be present. All I could feel was anorexia watching her sip her coffee slowly, digging deeper into time spent sitting down.
This sort of meet up will take practice: it was nice to feel like I was trying though. A sort of novel experience.

Solitude is becoming less comforting now that I have become bored of my own company. There is nothing I can talk to myself about that isn’t base gossip or venting about the feral, shrieking kids down the road.
If I follow the stretch marks, and do as my doctor’s suggest, being alone with myself will be less abhorrent. One hopes the violence will eventually cease, and that I shan’t be punished for sitting, or punished for not sitting.
A change in my behaviour will see a change in the topics I can discuss with myself. Recovery will give me new things to talk to myself about, perhaps something less political than food, and exercise. Chewing over what my next meal will be sucks the joy from the moment when it finally arrives.

Loneliness does things to people, even Anonymous.
Each day unpicks a nerve.
I can’t take much more of this utter isolation. Sooner or later I know I’ll pick a side: wade into recovery and run the risk of being lonely, or go back to the one friend I do have: anorexia.

I am being passed around Anorexia and all her friends as if they own me.
She snatches up my emotions and loses them, dropping them as though the scorch her fingers.
At this stage in my recovery, I am unable to control my emotions, and I loathe it.
I’ve become an accessory to the my own destruction, and the violence that tries to tear my family in two.

My family is the last thing I have left in the world. It is precious, and it’s value has made me see how delicate it is.
Time together must be managed so it isn’t overcooked, and the heat of each other’s company doesn’t singe and boundaries.
Time apart must be constructive, so I am always able to hod myself up tall when I present myself again.
Then, Anorexia’s time must share with Cancer.
Both illnesses inhabit this house, but are excluded from our home. We trip over Cancer on a Friday, and slide though a couple of days of chemotherapy. The drugs will eventually lose their momentum and it all picks up a little. On the good days, we gather. We gather ourselves, and each other. We come together with the energy. We cling to these days carefully: for they are precious.
How cruel it is to feel anorexia slip, how unfair it is to lose control of her and watch her hurl pieces of our precious time together into despair. Anonymous chucks their light moods far away, where they’ll sink into worry like stones. Anorexia is a selfish friend, she drags everyone down with her rather than slip away quietly.
Worse still, to let her get hold of the heavy days. The days woozy with worry, rattling with pills and shaken nerves. How low it is for anorexia to stalk my family in the midst of the chemotherapy cycle.
The consequence of losing myself on these days is horrifying. Anxiety chews on fatty guilt for weeks afterwards.
No, there is never a good day to be anorexic. I will never function past this mark without learning to manage my emotions.
That will start with having the strength to hold them in the first place.
And I want to. I want to be there for my family, to hold them as they hold me: emotions and all. I want to get better so I can be better. I want to get better so I can get Ellie to help me help them. They are better support than anorexia is – you know they are, Anonymous. Leave them alone, leave my family alone.

Anxiety holds it’s breath, knowing the worst is surely on it’s way. That’s when I give way under the weight of it all. All is nothing, but at the same time – everything.
Facing it All – the now, the never, the perhaps and the presumed – I pour myself into anxiety, and let the feelings brew. Misery stirs my thoughts once, twice, thrice; round and round and round. My blood begins to roar, and then I lose it. I lose reality in the gloom, and the next few hours are at the mercy of anorexia, and all her friends.

I have to get out of here: I have to stretch out of this hovel.
Anything to stretch myself out of this hovel ad beyond the confines of my skin, just to remind me there is life outside madness.
A trip to London, a small supper party, and impromptu phone call overseas. Anything: Ellie has to push me against this restrictive bubble.
She hates seeing me struggle. Especially when she is too weak to help, worse still when she is string enough to try, but doesn’t believe I’m worth it.

My weight is a stretch mark on a graph. A slight trend, a hint. A clue so Anxiety has something to plot against.
And food.
Food?
Just another layer to my imprisonment.

Stretching food so it will one day be a loose fit around my life is sickening. So much eating is required, so many swallowed challenges.
My most recent gut-busting trick was to try, just once, to add a behaviour around food, rather than change one I already have. Thus the ‘bananadrama’ challenge was born: to eat, without planning or preparation, a banana with a spoon of peanut butter. Foodstuffs chosen because there ain’t no anti-anorexic treatment like my most favourite snack.
The trouble was with the timing: when could I possibly see fit to stuff an extra 150kcal out of mealtime hours?
The answer came on the day of a distressing day trying to meet a friend for lunch. In my anxious stupour, I avoided eating anything remotely calorific. It felt good to feel nothing, until I saw myself reflected, swaying uneasily bus window. I was hungry, and climbing high on hunger. They aren’t pleasant trips, are they Ellie? You should eat something as soon as you’re home.
My stomach stretched a little further with the progress I made that day.
It felt grossly uncomfortable, but it felt like progress.

Recovery is bruising my anorexic frame of mind, and opening it up to consider how it would be to live without Anonymous. I have spent so long locked in my own head, and am struggling so much to break out of it.

Sometimes, it is easier to shield you from my Progress. It is easier not to listen to your gasps at my transformation, it is less painful to confess weakness than declare strength. The latter just agitates Anonymous, and I become anxious again.
Sometimes I sit on my progress here. Literally – did I mention I sat through shivasana in my yoga class last week? Practising the art of meditation still evades me, but I at least talked myself down onto a bolster, and joined in the final 5 mins of class that are so vital to the essence of yoga. I didn’t quite manage it this week, but feel ready to try again next time. Even if only a tiny blip in anorexia’s regime, this is a scratch at progress.
I deny it exists too often, and so forget that like time, Progress is fragile too. A single anxious episode stretched out over a few days is enough to tarnish a month’s work of weight gain. Take last week for example. All that food, all that effort to reach 49.4kg; but then a single anxious thought could shake it down to 48.8kg by the next week. We can still follow Progress, even here. It moves forwards because of recovery, in spite of its weakness. Progress is a very loyal friend, just not that strong at the present.

I trace a stretch mark up my leg, wrapped around the pillowy flesh on my thigh. Progress is here, as alive as the time that raised it.
Only by accepting that the only constant thing is change, will I be able to control my progress. Acceptance could turn it into a friend, rejecting it could turn it into a slave. Head the future off, and Progress into madness.

 

Anorexic Rhapsody

Music is so calorific.

A feast for the ears and heart, a score of temptations.
Ellie used to gorge herself on music, spending years binging behind her harp. She stuffed chords into the air and felt the notes grow fat, wobbling as they resonated off her harpstrings. She’d indulge herself in a joy nobody else could touch, not down there in the audience. Power ripened on her harp through grades and concerts. The horizon dilated, and I tripped towards it high on adrenaline. The strings shook, and notes blurred.
Music was a temptation away from dieting and exercise. It was a safe haven to install Ellie, a place she could lose herself in and know she’d always be able to find herself again. She could hide from herself, and drown her thoughts out in a melody.

To recover from Anorexia, I have been prescribed food.
Food to provide calcium, protein and potassium. Food to fix osteoporosis, amenhorea and a broken body image. Food for thought and food for esteem: food to give me strength to see myself clearly again, and food to pass judgement thereafter. Food to build up muscle, and food to build up self-worth. Love. Love?

Self-love is by far my biggest fear food.
Being presented with it makes my mouth water, and I become afraid. Trapped in this denial is all part of the punishment. It’s all part of the cleansing I must go through to rid myself of Ellie, and become Anonymous.
I haven’t indulged in self love for a very long time. It has always looked too tough, too chewy and complex to swallow, to understand.

My doctors and family sing a different tune. Their’s is a forgiving one. The tone is sharper, but melts into the background of reality like butter.
The lyrics clash horrifically in my ringing ears. The syncopated jangling of my nerves unsettles their “It’s ok” preludes. “Stop punishing yourself” a rhapsodic rasp and completely out of tune with the anthem I’ve sung all my life, and still do.
Anorexia treatment is trying to retune my thoughts so they are brighter, so that I may climb more major scales.
My Anonymous melody works. It speaks for me, sums me up with all my sins and contains me on a downward spiral.
To recover, I must tune in to reality. I listen out for it above the grainy images in my head, and try to sift through each one, sorting fears between ‘real’ and ‘imagined’.

Practising self love is a highly strung affair. Anonymous simply won’t swallow it: most of it won’t even make it to my plate.
A surge of inspiration was washed up after my Dad tuned my harp, and Ellie’s thumbs pricked. I plucked up some courage and a few strings, and with encouragement, I did it. I played my harp, and chewed on a sweet morsel of love and relief, peppered with nostalgia that sprung tears from my eyes in the final bars.

These strings have been plucked a thousand times, but not for the last two years.
Anonymous is a fool to suppose that playing the harp is any less a workout than standing, or taking the only light exercise I’m allowed. Twelve bars in, cramp killed the moment and my arms stiffened where they lay. My muscles froze over, petrified by the work that lay ahead. These fingers groaned in protest and these feet – in those shoes – shuffled clumsily along the pedals. And my back. Oh, my barren back. The ghost of posture’s past rattled in the empty pores of my spine. Holding up an armful of rosewood, 46 strings and a dead harp career, it was my back that cried out first when I plucked that first string.
Anorexia is finely tuned in to any form of sitting, and so harp practice causes a clash of peripatetic emotions: mostly alarm and panic. One or two attacks thereafter.
Over the last two weeks, I’ve managed to ease Ellie into a chair and force Anonymous to sit there and listen for 5 or 10 minutes, here and there.
For now, that’s all I can manage. And for now, that’s enough.

I chewed on this treat, listening to symphonic joy tremble my very being. Somewhere inside, I felt Ellie danceng again. She knotted and unknotted my tummy, lifted my arms like the willow trees in Marraconelo Way – my childhood home – and delved back into the music.

Thought process got caught up in this hedonistic party, and then I gave myself away. In a stuffy staffroom, I let slip to the headmaster that I played the harp.
Ah.
Nice one Ells. You’ve done it now: you’ve sealed your fate and cast it into the music.

I wasn’t sure how to approach it at first. A harp performance in front of the whole school blocked up my future with exposure, humiliation, and ultimately, loosing my job.
My performance lurked in the corner of coming days, a real and gasping fear. There was so much that could go wrong, so many strings to hold and so many thoughts to order, reorder, disorder. How heavy would the silence be when it eventually fell?
I saw how it would be: held down and nerves wracked, fate screwing tighter.

No. Scratch that. We won’t make it to the end of the paragraph, I’ll lose you in the gloom.
I need to change the narrative.
Is it possible, Ellie, that your character had been feeling a little bit excited?

I waited in the wings.
Today, Ellie, you are not anxious. Feel that pleasant flutter, that fluid knotting, that movement? This is not the work of anxiety, who’s hand constricts around every sense and squeezes it tight, tight, tighter.
No, today you are nervous.
Oh, nervousness – my familiar friend! Oh, oh, oh – all is forgiven. Welcome back, you dithering twit. You are quite pleasant in comparison to your high-flying elder sibling. Anxiety is such a bore, you’re much more exciting.
Nerves, thanks for being here. Thank you for helping me.
How lovely it is to write that: that I felt something so normal and benign as stage-fright.

Ellie pulled me on stage, gripping me by my hair as it stood on end.
My fingers hovered over the strings, circling and skirting. They nestled between in the intervals. The silence was thick, and squeezed out from in-between the strings like honey. My fingertips traced the strings. C,D,E.
My harp hid me well. The scene was strung up and sliced into thin, bitesized chucks. Every face in the audience was blocked by a strip of nylon or brass, I couldn’t see my colleagues lining the hall, I couldn’t see the way out.
I had to hold this harp, this head, and the children’s wandering and wondering attentions.
I couldn’t hear the buzz of anticipation, only my silence, quaking in it’s final moments.
The wood weighed heavy on my shoulder, but held me close. I let the silence fall, and embraced music.
A far cry tuned in to where I was, and why.

The first note – that very first B – tore. It grazed the quiet and the melody frayed my nerves. Chords sparkled and strings sang. I nestled closer into my instrument.
I had forgotten how much I enjoyed performing. Enjoyment: another nourishing and indulgent treat.
That first B plucked the poison from my head and I was let go, lost in rolling chords. I played on, on and on, into the softness of the room. Then the peace ended, and I had to stop.
My portion of enjoyment was dwarfed by that of the school. I have never known 200+ children sit so completely and utterly still. One could have heard silence splintering. I made grown men cry and succumbed under the layers of myself.
Then the peace ended, and I had to stop. When the last child had left and the final note hummed, I fell over the stiffened corpse of who I used to be, and burst into tears. Awe-struck by what I had just found, terrified of what to do with it now.

There are so many calories in enjoyment. I was hit by a sugary rush of adrenaline and tripped through a day at work high on endorphins. I had so much energy, I simply couldn’t contain it beneath this skin. Surely, to sustain this feeling, I must make more room for it. I clung to the confused ecstasy like my leggings do my thighs, and let it carry me through the meals, trials and tantrums over the coming days. Eating food, for a moment, was easy. Logical. I had just seen what nourishment meant, how much power it gave me.
Only now, a day later, is that feeing beginning to ebb away.

Anorexic guilt bit gently into how long I sat for, how deceitful it is to pretend I’m anywhere near as good at the harp as Ellie was.
She’s biting down on her own lip. Not out of nerves, but anxiety.
I hope Anorexia feels threatened by my performance. I hope she saw and heard every tiny detail: putting myself out there, facing a fear; identifying and understanding how I felt and what I felt. Distinguishing between the reality of Nervousness, and the monstrous Anxiety that embellished my mind’s eye.

This has to be another step, another push into the next movement of Recovery.
If only a rest could come, and for my thoughts to quieten down.

Vandalism

The future stretches ahead of me, a blank canvas.
I can’t tell yet if Recovery will be a vandal, or an artist.

It is a rough sketch of the rest of my life. Recovery appears as a scar on the face of the Future, a blot on this perfect canvas. More and more over the last few weeks, I have foreseen recovery screw over time as it passes.
Thin lines cut through a ‘fine’ mesh – “totally fine”. They grow bold. They creep into my routine and I follow, kicking up anxiety as I tread. I would like to take a moment to stand back and admire the work it has done in the last week alone. Work I have done.
My routine coloured a little outside the lines of my control. My snack time jabbed out into the unknown, 20 mins early. Time allocated for standing was squeezed tight, and stuffed into a chair.
My new job at school clumsily fell over lunchtime. Food had to fall back an hour.
Adjustments had to be made to accommodate my ever ebbing energy levels at the end of the week, resulting in Sunday being shortened by an hour or two so I could indulge in sleep.
Let me draw your attention my big recovery wins.
Look at those bold strokes made at anorexia when I sat in the same seat for over an hour in my classroom. My student and Anonymous were crying to leap up and toss their reading books aside. They both just wanted to escape to another activity, more activity. Ellie battled them both throughout that hour. Anonymous, we must not fail this pupil. Anorexia’s own strength can sometimes be used against her.
The classroom sitting success that Thursday gave way to a Friday pushing borders into old territory. I found myself gingerly perching in the craft corner, holding a paintbrush for the first time in years. I bought the Future some watercolours today. I wonder if it’s allowed them.

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Primary school takes up fridge space.

These wins embellish the present, and offer inspiration for the Future.

Recovery scribbled all over a dull Thursday evening. It has taken control of them, free-hand. I had always fancied a design of the future that could use Spanish, especially as Ellie had been so invested in her studies of it at university all that time ago. A rush of blood to the head as it turned towards my future saw me book some evening classes at my local university. After an anxious reshuffle of supper and lunch, I found myself sat between two businessmen, reciting the subjunctive. “Me llamo Ellie,” and I remember my voice.
The class itself shaded my food. I had to eat supper away from my kitchen chair, risk preparing it in advance and banking that I’ll have the energy to last that long through the day to see my plans through. Simply being strong enough to cram my prescribed calories into such a short space of time is, in my present view, a victory in itself.
Spanish lessons are another tool I am using to reconstruct the Future’s face. The confidence boost added a glow to my lessons in the coming weeks. Homework is pulling me through the week. Golden hours spent having something to do ooze by, like thick drops of honey. A worksheet, a translation and some grammar. Achievable means to get to the end of another week.

These Spanish lessons cast me back into a university environment. A violent throwback, that I want to rebuke forward into the future.
I am still reeling from the stress of the UCAS calamity. Only now, standing back to admire that rushed application, can I appreciate Ellie’s signature thoughts presiding over anorexic ones. This University: 20 mins from home; 15 from my hospital. A good uni, with a good course and good support. A stable structure on which I can build myself on, on which I could construct a future. Not just a fantasy, as Exeter had been. Leaving so soon in treatment was just Ellie trying to elope with anorexia. Applying to this one here would brand the Future with a degree even whilst I’m in treatment. It would give me a hopeful high ground, in the fight for my Future.

This is Ellie’s current design for the Future, subject to approval from my doctors, Anonymous, and myself.
Presently, it looks motivated. Certainly there is patchy motivation. But it seems grainy, a bit scratchy for Anxiety.
All this uncertainly leaves me dithering at how to carry myself towards the Future, how to behave around it and understand it. It is a new friend of mine, and I still need to learn to manage it’s moody swings from one moment to the next, leaping on the past like a wild animal.

Reality’s sketchy face watches me. A harsh glare bores in the back of my head, it’s ugly presence looming each time I enter the classroom, or walk into a hard yoga class, or begin another day. You’re just not enough.
Working in a classroom is not for the faint hearted, and I am all too aware that Anonymous is unable to do my job as well as Ellie could. There is not enough room in her head to take it all in, and give back. Children think too fast and carry too much energy to keep up with. 10 hours shouldering the clamour and colour, worry and wonder leaves me drained halfway through the week. I have to get better, or it will all catch up with me. I am already being left behind by the next generation.
That is not what Ellie wants her future to look like. That was never my design.
There is always a snack-stand off at the end of the day. At 6pm I collapse into the car, and face the food in the glovebox. 200kcal cut into neat wedges and wrapped up in shiny foil. Anorexic friendly slogans splash across the front: “vegan”; “GF”; “wholesome”. I stare at it. Cold, tired, and covered in paint – this is never the time to poke Anonymous in the eye. Anxiety is already awake, the air poisoned by what will happen if I do eat it, and what will happen if I don’t. Reality holds my snack up to the future, a dangling carrot to guide me.
Or a threat. If I don’t have the energy for school, the children will sniff it out, and devour my confidence whole.
For my future, I must eat.

As a teacher, I doodle around the edges of children’s futures. Small embellishments here and there, stickers, smiley faces and time outs.
As a friend, I scroll through an exhibition on my facebook feed. I like these works of art. My input in their future is cheapened as I hand out token likes like sweets.
As a real friend, I behold work on other people’s future with wonder, and applaud.
As a person, I turn back to my own future. It is hard not to panic at the sight of a blank canvas. It stretches endlessly through the years, staring back at itself, and reliving an end that has yet to begin. A portfolio of late submissions or absences: relationships, job, any branded token of happiness that could be waved in someone else’s face, with pixel-glittered joy. Where would I start on that?
At least I could explain an anorexic picture of the future. These sharp and rigid lines, this confined and primal, perfect design. A black and white still capturing fear as it frosts over. A negative filter applied on this small, safe miniature of life.
At least that’s something to show. At least this life – my life – would have something in it. Signed, Anonymous.
Without it, the future would just be an empty space. A waste.

I behold the mess anorexia is making of my life, revulsion wells up behind my eyeballs.
My past was vandalised by the hands of life, then patched up badly by anorexia. She swung me low into the present, shedding the extra layers I couldn’t bear anymore. Anxiety and opportunity ebb away as my tongue becomes blunt and numb to Life’s bitter taste. This is the anorexic design.
Ellie clings to this illness because it used to work. It used to be helpful, it used to be something. If I lay anorexia down, I may not find another tool to fight Life with. Ellie needs Anonymous to sign her name, because I myself have no pen to write with.

January: the month Reality makes it’s return. Yet this January, recovery lead me to discovery. I found a future: blank and unassuming, stretching across the vastness of my life that has yet to be fulfilled.

I catch my mind’s eye wandering over the Future. This torn and tortured mind, lingering over blank space. Terrified of trying to make something of it, to vandalise the rest of my life with recovery.

My pen is poised, lingering over this blank space. Just do it. It must be a matter of just doing it. Get the future over with.
I just want the pain of weight gain to be over. For these would to heal over and for the scars to fade into nothing more than words on a blog post. If only I could just do it. Just put the weight on and see how you feel.
Recovery is surely just a series of blots across perfect possibility. And then the wait to see how it turns out, when the emotion dries out.
All my tools to start working on the future are lined up. My harp is tuned; watercolours set; meal plan written out and goals sketched out. New things may help smooth the present into the future.
To start, I just need to do it.
It could be so beautiful. Just how you want it, Ellie.

I can’t wait to touch the future.
I can’t wait to see what could happen if I was allowed to sit and play my harp, learn arabic, paint. There will be no stopping me, and no stopping time.
I can’t wait to see how it feels. Please don’t let it feel how it looks from back here. Don’t let it be that full and fat.
Oh Ellie, it won’t. You won’t feel fat.
Fat is not an emotion.

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.

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.

Moveable Feasts

My decision to defer university for another year left devastation in it’s wake. Every day sinks deeper. Loss is a natural disaster, and it has taken a while for grief to catch up. Finally, it has arrived.
When the “whether” broke and the decision dawned on me, the pressure dropped and sucked anxiety away.
In the few days that followed my deferral, Anonymous took cover in the eye of the storm, and let relief rain. Together we watched the waves of anguish build as September approached. The ghost of my leaving date leered.
I wade into another day of Recovery. My reason to eat was washed away, and disorder was left in it’s wake.
It is a storm too big to get over. No, all I can do now is get through it. Slash through each day as it comes. Stand away from the tides of triggers, and wait for it all to pass.

We are all trying to grapple with what has just happened. I have been feeling my way down the levels of grief, gathering my thoughts together. Denial was first to disrupt the calm climate of relief. It passed by in relief: shrugging off questions, and letting distraction shield me from the nip in the air. Realisation froze over in the following week. The sugary rush of relief passed, and now grief craves a home. Somewhere to place this feeling, some direction or purpose.

Here is grief.
Ellie found words with no meaning.
Pages of writing for nobody to read.
Illness there for nothing, but health.
No doubt to eat, no regret to drink. No satiety for the full.
Nothing to make anything from.
A plot lost in the story.

I also found a body. Let us examine this specimen here, in the mirror: where it was first discovered. It was last seen 2kg ago, stumbling across a weight graph towards a hospital admission. Notice it was discovered far from the inpatients unit: it must have endured those 2kg just to escape more intensive treatment. Goodness, it has been through a lot in the short space of two months.
Food complimented Ellie by rushing to the parts she is most proud of. Fat flirts with my face, the weight on my cheeks only trying to make my smile come back. High priority was given to my face in particular: the one that speaks for and represents the brain it cradles. This aid was distributed to protect my brain. I suppose I should feel flattered that Ellie believes this mind is worth protecting.
This weight is incriminating: it proves that in this instance, Anonymous lied. Time blew over what Anorexia blew out of proportion: that extra 2kg didn’t look as horrifying as it should have. Had the scales not pointed it out, I probably wouldn’t have noticed. Of course, now it is obvious. Now, it’s the next 2kg I’m worried out.
The eye of the storm watches me deciding what to do with the body.

Grief broke Recovery’s image: now I see a liar. It told me I would get out if I gained a little weight. Struggling against the tide of grief took kcal..

Anonymous wrapped her arms around my meal plan, and squeezed it tight.
My glass of milk was reduced to a dribble in a cup of tea – decaf – sipped to stretch my “snack” hour out. Nuts rained like bullets into the bin, they were the first casualties in the retreat. Anonymous blocked up all calories leaking in through liquid, resulting in a breakfast drought. Today, she eyed up my yogurt. How many kcal is it worth trying to save, Ellie?
The storm broke, and restriction soaked up the floods of panic. Still, they come in waves. I caught Ellie’s eye wandering, looking at Anorexia in awe.
She’s still got it.

After being pushed into a crowd of emotions, I withdrew. I turned off my phone, I left work after only 2 hours. Still, I couldn’t escape time. It was crushing.

From behind my closed door, Anonymous spied on my family. Ellie progressed backwards and responded only to the adrenaline surge that beat her head against the wall.
Where I couldn’t control my emotions, I controlled my environment. Anonymous counted the calories on my parents plates before she made a meal of preparing her own supper. She caught a whiff of unsolicited cooking – 15:00hrs; 09/09/2017; a slow cooker – and defended herself with venom. The world turned against me, so I turned my head against the wall: one, two, three. Doors that shut with a crack, squeak, sigh cued an anorexic attack.
One, two, three.
Pennies and pins dropped, and cracked through the house like a whip. Kindness and cruelty were made mute, their tongues cut off on eggshells.
The calm after the storm never arrived, the rage just kept building.
One, two, crack –

The paintwork is bruised from where my head hits it. I use the same place every time: the strong and silent type, the sort my parents would never find out about. If it weren’t for the screaming.
Self harm is just another form of grief: just another action that will never have the words to explain itself. The injured character, looking for a victim.

I couldn’t contain Anorexia. There was just so much to manage, and I needed her help. In such turbulent times, the only permanent thing is change.

After the storm, I pieced together an existence for Anorexia to work on, and for Ellie to work with. Sifting through lies, limits and numbers; trying to disorder kcal to reorder kg.
I asked for my job back, and squashed all temptation of university under administration and paperwork.
A dream of other offers a full recovery can offer swam before my eyes. Travel, writing, good books, a different course or different –
wait. I’m getting ahead of myself. I think it is just so Grief doesn’t catch up with me again.

A gathering of thoughts, a triggering job, and Time.
This is what has been left over.
A reason to set an alarm in the morning.

Losing university is just another loss. Another one. What, Ellie, have you got to lose now? What is there left for Change to take away?
Life cannot be this greedy. If I only asked, perhaps it would give something back. Like Time. That slippery, omniscient narrator: the one Anorexia cannot stop. I must spend this time wisely: or else Recovery will run away with it.

I looked back at my decision as it receded. Unshaken, it holds its head up high. It was made right, out of honest reasons for which I am proud of. As are my parents and doctors. I don’t trust my own thoughts because they are infected, but I know this one is clean. Everyone was having it: I’m not ready for university yet. It is not the ned of the world, as it seemed at first. As if the world has any sort of limited to meeting my deadline of returning to university now. No, I just need more time.

This is a blot on my manuscript. A mistake.
Reading over the last two weeks, I can see my characters turn on each other. The narrative changed. It’s nature turned erratic, and I lost my place. I can’t remember where I left Recovery.
This is not how my life was meant to be.

The plot, and Ellie’s blood, thickens.
How empty those words sound, how grievous.