Anor-versary

The end gave me somewhere to start. A year ago today, I was diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa. Finally, she had a name. It was such a relief. A diagnosis to point at, something to accuse.

The last year lies in pieces. Collected, chewed over and hoarded. They have swept me up and dumped me here: where I am now. One year into “recovery”, and shuffling along to the noise of a weight chart.

Weak synapses still suck information away from memory. So I am relying on evidence to trace the steps Ellie took to resuscitate the Will to recover, and show it how to breathe.
Anonymous keeps my food diaries; wrappers; calculations; inactive social media accounts; the litter collected after a blog brain storm. Evidence of a crime committed in the name of recovery. A point of reference should that graph spike. My bedroom has become a cemetery of dead memory. I have a whole box brimming with pocket notebooks. I can read her silence between the lines of this blog: there are somethings she won’t admit to – even here.

I turned the pages of my food diary, engrossed. In a year, a refeeding programme has grown into a meal plan. Out of a milky hue, the silhouettes of calorie increases swam into semi-skimmed focus. They trained my body to catch electrolytes in a shift, and slow weight loss. Stop weight loss. Ah, look. Here it began to reverse.
Increases have splattered colour onto my plate. An autumnal olive oil slick dripped in through fried spices; dressings; on vegetables. A carbohydrate assault looted fear of rye and wild rice, glimpsing the prizes still up for grabs. I started putting tastes to names: sourdough; buckwheat; couscous. Sugar rushed after it was introduced to me in a medjool date. Homemade falafel blocked the monotony of hummus at lunchtime. Remember the spring smoothie crisis?
I turned another page, blinded by colour. Highlights flared and died, dimming as they became habit. The winter “snack” massacre. That is a controversial one. Ellie has to use the politically correct term “afternoon pick-me-up”, to avoid an Anorexic riot. I can read emotion bleeding through the unspoken planning that goes into every bite.
Anonymous preserves my food logs in her archives, keeping tabs on any ill-judged decisions to lick a spoon, or eat a grape. Unsolicited.
I’ve kept every “afternoon-pick-me-up” wrapper, just in case.

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“Afternoon-pick-me-up” Archive

Mental progress can’t be monitored in the same way. There is nothing to hold, nothing to form a trend with. Yet perhaps there are tracks heading in the right direction, if we look hard enough.
Perhaps this: not always rushing to the end of a meal to meet Anorexia’s deadline, or drawing it out to waste the day away.
See here, these are my arms. It’s sweaty at work today (body heat is a thing now), so I have rolled up my sleeves. I am waiting for someone to say something. Look. My arms embrace silence.
And here, I’m putting on make-up. No, not trivialising these aged eyes, simply enhancing them a little.
My skin looks clear, you say? Well I would hope so. I’m using a very expensive scrub. It has almond extract in it. I know, I know there are no calories in it.
And no, I’m not wearing tracksuit pants today. They have a curfew: they aren’t allowed out until after a shower.
I could have told you all this had you called my mobile phone: I might have answered.
Oh yes, perhaps this. I’m weighing up whether or not to drop in on my friend’s birthday reception on Saturday. Only for half an hour or so, would that be ok?
Won’t we be seen? Perhaps.
Or worse: What if they don’t see me?

When Ellie awakes, she coughs up memories. Embryonic emotions are thrust upon me prematurely, screaming for me to cope with them. Refeeding myself rips the scabs off wounds, and now I struggle to stem the steady flow of unwanted, unplanned feeling.
I have a bruise on my forehead.
Marbled moss, mustard, burgundy. The crater left by black and blue emotion. I had to react. Purple flowers grow out of burst blood vessels. The bruise smarts when people’s eyes graze over it. They unstick themselves from my face, unsure where to look. Nobody could meet my eye anymore. These emotions were never mine. Ellie doesn’t let Anorexia starve feelings out, so they are neglected. Nobody will handle or accept responsibility for them. When they grow rancid, they will release themselves.
It was such a relief.
And now, I have a bruise on my forehead.

It’s true what they don’t say about recovering from a mental illness. It is a journey, a psychedelic trip across precarious successes before coming down, hard. Regret is always there to pick you up, and reprimand you for loosing so much control.

I can feel restoration coming, slowly. Change snaked at a gradual gradient over an axis of the last year. It held still occasionally so Anonymous would let her guard down.
Anonymous knows physical restoration could jump on her at any point. She feels the trembling ground scatter noise across my weight chart. +0.2kg turns the volume up to an angry buzz. Anonymous covers her eyes, and my mouth. -0.2kg. There. Much better.
The line of best fit was kept snug, so my leggings stayed baggy. Fluctuations rose and fell in a stagnant dream. To wake Ellie from this nightmare, I had to turn up the noise. Even if only a little.

My mental illness has made a spectacle of itself. Recovery makes me blush because it humiliates Anonymous. It is embarrassing.
I dread the day when the numbers make “Anorexia” redundant. Anonymous needs her identity to be validated. If my body is ripped from her grip, she will have nothing to defend me with.
Earlier, I mentioned my leggings. Here’s the thing about those leggings. My XS leggings no longer pull a curtain over sharp boney corners. No, they cling to my thighs for dear life. They are only baggy at the crotch, and only ripple in a breeze. Can you hear her cry of shame?
Restoring weight is a blinding display of strength. She won’t let me face it. Anorexia can’t bear to witness my weakness degenerate. It would destroy her.
That is why change has to move slowly. Any sudden movements would make it prey.

Progress tastes better than it looks, and it is worth chewing over. Deciding to include a photo in this blog post traps me in a restrictive frame of mind. A single snapshot cannot capture progress, it is a moving and breathing target. It has feelings. And yet, Ellie wishes to use this picture as proof.

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13.06.16 v. 13.06.17

I admit it. Ellie, you have come this far. You are ordering those numbers: +7kg; BMI 15.3; bpm 52. I dare you to turn back now.
My doctors have mapped out a route through unchartered territory: I still have a long way to go. I have barely restored half of my weight lost to Anorexia. I am still chasing that healthy horror. Perhaps when I catch up with it, it will scare away the ECG machines, and the blood tests, the needles.
Change hasn’t coloured over the lines of Anorexia’s rules, and the pale tinges complement my routine. But they are getting stronger, bolder. Life is starting to glow with progress.

 

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What a colourful start (to my day) !

“Recovery” is an unfinished story, without a beginning, a middle or an end, but with plenty of twists. This is my story, thank you for helping me get through my first year in recovery. Back then, I didn’t think I’d make it to the end of the week.

To my diagnosis: Happy Birthday. Anonymous, may you surrender many happy returns.

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Choosing recovery:

An Apology for Sorry

Anorexia gave Ellie a daughter, her name is Anxiety.
She used to be called Insecurity, but she became spoilt.

She wasn’t created this way. She wasn’t always so unstable, so random and rabid.
Anonymous adopted Insecurity and fed her up to make her strong. Together, they starved her into Anxiety.
She wasn’t always quite so cruel.
Anonymous feasted on Ellie and let Anxiety scavenge. She nourished her prodigy by throwing her bones to fetch, and gradually trained her to be a monster.

Insecurity had already achieved so much in her friendship with Ellie.
She lay the foundations for me to see that Ellie was weak and worthless.
She reminded me that I needed to be sorry.
I’m sorry.

I’m sorry sorry for stealing air that would better serve other people.
I’m sorry for taking up this space, I’m sorry for being in the way.
I’m sorry because it must have been me.
It must have been my fault: otherwise, why would you treat me like that? Why would say that to me? Why would you do that to me?
I must have provoked you. It must have been my fault, because you told me it was. I provoked it by standing here, breathing air I had no right to.
I’m sorry.
Apologies burn like bleach on my tongue, cleansing me of shame only I can feel, because you make me feel that way.

“Ellie, stop apologising.” – if I had a lb for every time someone said that, well.

Insecurity made Anonymous’ job easy. She tricked me into thinking she could help me, and make me stronger. She told me she could protect me. That I could take “sorry” to a whole new level.
I let myself overdose on the painkiller that was starvation.

Anxiety’s training programme was structured around Anonymous’ rules and fuelled by my submission.
Together, they put me on a leash and took me on a walk away from threat. We wandered blissfully calm towards a sorry wasteland: free from thought; free from shame; free from feeling and free from food.
We followed time around the clock face, and Anonymous told me I was escaping it.
I was controlling time:
“Get up its 5am.”
“Run, move; don’t stop.”
“Is it 8pm? So why are you sitting?”
“Keep to the routine.”
“You’re lazy. You’re so greedy.”
I’m sorry.

Anonymous now sends Anxiety to do her bidding.

Their methods are different. Whilst Anorexia uses wars of attrition, Anxiety uses guerrilla tactics: surprise ambushes are her speciality.
She hides in Ellie’s shadow and waits until the threat is close enough. Then, with a war mongering spasm of relish, she rises like bile. She sinks her fangs deep into my nerves and holds me in place as Anonymous watches, whispering.
“How dare you.”
“You waste of space.”
“You worthless, useless child. How dare you.”
I’m sorry.
Then I’ll hide. Ellie tells me to turn off her phone. We shy away from everyone: they might hurt us. Together, we hide.

She attacks Ellie when we both least expect it. Mostly, it’s when I dare defy one of Anonymous’ rules.
I slept in by 15mins, and Anonymous sent Anxiety.
I stood next to a plate of food reeking of rich aromatic spices, and Anonymous sent Anxiety.
I ate breakfast 20mins late, and Anonymous sent Anxiety.
The telephone rang at lunchtime, and Anonymous sent Anxiety.
Fear should have murdered me long ago. It is Anorexia’s greatest ally, because it is anonymous.

Ellie is trying to reinforce her defences against Anxiety attacks, and she tells me prevention is the best policy.
I carry sedatives around in my pocket when I leave the house, lest I should discover a minefield littered with triggers.
I try to anticipate obstacles before they trip me up, that way I stunt Anonymous’ element of surprise.
I shut my eyes and try and stop time is I spill me milk, or if there is a pause in the hum of the ECG machine. Fear is less of a shock if it manifests slowly.
Mainly, I say sorry. That way, I can acknowledge the the point of my own weakness, and consider it.
Why Ellie, are you always apologising?

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These are my parents, and they saved my life!

Most of the time, I need help defending myself.
My parents know there is an extra person living in this house with us: they know about Anonymous. We fight her off together. Trust is our most efficient tactic, because neither Anorexia nor Anxiety understand that.
They are my most treasured allies. When an attack is launched against Ellie, they rally at my side.
They talk me out of hell.
They hold me until Anonymous’ screams subside.
They let me climb into bed with them when I’m scared, and I’ll sleep soundly. There isn’t room in that bed for Anonymous.
She isn’t welcome in my family.

Anonymous’ reaction to threat is fear.
This recovery thing is really, really hard.
I know she feels frightened, because she is fighting harder.
Every effort I put into recovering: eating, chewing, breathing, terrifies Anonymous.
And I’m sorry – but I’m really not sorry for that.

Trigger Points

Ellie is my own trigger point.

Every Anorexic is an individual, and has their own unique Anonymous.
Every Anonymous is an individual, and has their own unique Anorexic.
No two are the same, and no two are shared. Anorexia is a selfish disease.

We are soul mates. Her love is my drug.
An addiction, an obsession.
A possession: something to control.
I ran to the safety in predictability and routine. I ran to an identity: I ran to Anonymous.
I ran from Ellie and her triggers.
Anonymous can control what Ellie can’t: the anxiety, the shame, the hate and discomfort she felt in her own skin.

Hating the person I was, and the desire to destroy it, started within hours of my first day at university.
It was only after I lost all sight of who Ellie was, who I was, when I met Anonymous. She filled the gap, she gave me a purpose. She made me a better person.
I was my own trigger.
We can’t control life, but we can control how we react to it.
So I let Anonymous do it all for me: she was my constant companion, always there to reassure me that everything would be ok.
I trusted her more than Ellie to know what is best for me, and to make the right choices.
We are defined by our choices, and so I became Anonymous.
Who is Ellie?

“Who is Ellie indeed. You don’t need her. She is out of control: fat, lazy and greedy.”

The body reflects, but does not represent.
My body is not Ellie, and Ellie is not my body.

In recovery, Anorexia reacts to threat.
Changes and challenges or any sign of Ellie triggers violence in Anonymous.
It’s because she knows she is under threat. She is terrified of Ellie too.

Each Anorexic has their own individual trigger points.
Some can’t eat cooked food.
Some can’t eat salty food.
Some can’t eat grains, cereals, fats.
My list is endless, so I shan’t share it here. I am ashamed of it.
Ellie is ashamed how abnormal my eating habits have become in the pursuit of safety.

Anonymous is no longer a safe option.
She also has her trigger points: moments that send both her and me into raving, panicked tantrums and evil, evil plotting to cut corners.
She is trying to cheat me out of recovery.
“Drop that on the floor, then you really won’t eat it.”
“Pour it down the sink”
“Hide it”
“Lie”
“We are winning”
Lies lies lies.
It’s exhausting.
And it’s because she knows she is under threat. It seems Ellie is her trigger point too.
Food has triggered something in Ellie. Senses, feelings.
Ellie is sick of feeling scared of social interactions.
Ellie is sick of people flinching if she wears shorts.
Ellie is sick of bursting into tears at the sight of a baby, something she fears she’ll never have.
Ellie is really, really sick of being cold. I live in Singapore: it’s constantly 32 degrees here and yet I shiver.
Ellie is sick of collapsing, of feeling weak. I represented my university in BUCS rowing events.
Ellie is asking: “Hey, what’s that about then?”
Ellie is sick of being sick.
Of feeling hopeless and helpless. And scared, bullied.
I haven’t felt pretty in two years.
Sick of it all.

These are triggers to eat.
Through pain and blinding white panic, but to eat nonetheless.

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Everything is weighed and measured in my meal plan

Following a meal plan is hard.
Too much food, too much anxiety. Not enough control.
“Greedy.”

Gaining weight is pretty hard too, at the moment.
There is no fast forward button in recovery: nothing to make me normal again.
Food has triggered my metabolism to get somewhat erratic and over excited: until it recovers from being in overdrive, I have to keep feeding it. Or we all crash back to square one, and have to start all over again.
I have to eat.
That bit is really really hard.

Recovery is a minefield of triggers, for everyone.

I am still Anonymous.
At the moment, I am ruled by her, and by Ellie.
But also by appointments, meal plans and numbers.
Kg, lb, st.

Ellie can’t believe her life is being dictated by numbers.
She hates numbers (never did thrive at maths.)
Ellie is an English student and a human being: she only wants to be defined by her feelings and suppositions. The things that lead her to Anonymous in the first place.

Food has triggered feelings.
Fear during the day.
At night though, if I have been good and eaten; I feel empowered.