Anor-Log: the Flu

Anorexia pushed my body over a line, and it fell into the hands of the flu.

You’d think anorexia and the flu would be best mates. But no, this is a competition to see who could cause each other the most amount of pain. Anorexia calls the Flu lazy, and the Flu calls Anorexia weak.
I sit to rest, to break my fall before I collapse in a fever – and Anonymous catches me slacking.
I stand to calm Anonymous, to throw her a scrap of activity – and the Flu crushes the air around me in jealousy.
Insults are hurled in body and mind; whatever I choose to do I end up offended one or the other, and that illness flares up.

A breath of nausea, and the taste of salt. A cold wave lapping against a scorching fever. Sweat lubricating limbs as they twitch in shivers of denial. This cannot be happening, I don’t believe it.
Sludge stirs from the depths of my throat. Thick and sticky, every breath I take gets caught in phlegm and torn out of of my mouth in a hacking fit.
I watch the scarf around my neck pulsating at 50 bpm.
The fever broke. A million tiny pieces of the infection splintered, and a cold sunk in.
I can now sit up in bed. I can now raise my head and stand, move about a little. Soon the phlegm gets too heavy, and now it is time to rest again.

It is for this reason that anorexia is terrified of illness: though it be short lived, it be mighty. It will force my body to lay out on a bed or be still in a chair. It will drown all my thoughts – anorexic or otherwise – in the depths of despair and panic, and it relishes the crunch of breaking fight as I will back down, and surrender myself to sweet, healing sleep.
Ah, sleep.

The flu confined me to my bed, and l became convinced that serious food would be thrown straight back up into anorexia’s face.
Eating anything at all was gruelling. Limbs quivering and posture weakened, I approached a glass of milk or scrap of toast. Anonymous dragged her feet with reluctance, unable to understand the necessity of it when all I was doing – could be doing – was moping about the house in a feverish reverie.
Ellie scavenged for encouragement to eat after nearly collapsing after I stood. After calling the clinic and asking Mum and Dad to yet again tell me that its ok to eat because I might have to, I did.
I have been documenting every meal I’ve eaten, and counting it so it barely scrapes the minimum of what I could manage.
Perhaps that’s why I still feel so grim. I think this might just be hunger.

I lost three days in a woozy haze. The time restrictions Anonymous so tightly enforced were swept up in the gruelling fight to drive out the flu.
Anonymous had no plans to eat breakfast, so reluctantly compromised not to set an alarm in the mornings. For the first time in a long time, my body could stir when it felt ready. Still, the pain drew me from a disturbed slumber at 7:30, as always.
Now I had the rest of the day to waste. Ellie hurled as many hours at rest as anorexia allowed her, in hope that it would coax the flu away.

This morning, I awoke and stood up, shaking the phlegm down my veins and blowing it out. I climbed under a hot gushing shower and let the stream draw liquid out of my face. Emerging with pink skin and panting, I was quick to wrap up in a fluffy towel and scrub every last drop of sweat, blood and tears of the flu out.
I’ve been here before.
The hairdryer roared and the sun grinned through the curtains. The window swung open on it’s hinges and welcomed clean air into my bedroom. The stench of skin is beginning to diffuse.
I downed some pills (paracetamol doesn’t have any calories, Anonymous,) and crawled down to the kitchen. I looked for something to settle my tummy. Violent cries for sustenance, please feed me.

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Feeeeeeeed me

Plump dollops of yogurt stiffened granola into tight balls. I folded a banana and a handful of blueberries in, then settled down to eat the first real meal I’ve eaten in four days. Guilt was an aftertaste.
Now what are you going to do? You’ve eaten, better get on and do something.
We’re about to go out to a nature reserve: normally a very enjoyable and relatively gentle family day out. I can see the line again. Please Ellie, please don’t let me cross it again so soon. Please don’t over-do it before the cold has gone, and get ill all over again.

I’ve been typing this out all morning, in fragmented bursts. Worry that the calories will grow bored with the cold and, in their temper, curdle in my blood vessels, keeps breaking my train of thoughts.
But here I can see written what I need to remember: you have to eat, you need the calories because your body is fighting an illness.
How ironic, this is exactly what my nurse tells me everyday – with or without the flu. Ellie, today you need the calories for the flu. But everyday, you need the calories for anorexia.

500 kcal

Trigger warning.

In order to recover from anorexia, one must put on weight.
0.5kg per week, until the symptoms subside.

In order to gain 0.5kg per week, one must eat 500 kcal more than their daily requirements. Everyday, for the whole week.
One has to eat an extra 500 kcal everyday, for every day of the week.
500 kcal, 7 days a week
That adds up to 3500 kcal everyweek. Extra. Everyweek.
In order to recover from anorexia, I have to eat 500 kcal more than what I do already. What I already do isn’t enough. A medicinal measure of progress: my weight – my number – has been unchanged since November. I need to eat 500 kcal more than enough.
The problem is, eating enough is already too much. It’s too much for Anonymous to cope with: so much disorder to be dealt with.
When will any of this ever be enough? I’ve had enough.

In order to recover from anorexia, one must put on weight.
Layers, and layers, and layers.
Doctors’ encourage anorexics to put it on one layer at a time, at a speed with enough momentum to maintain itself, but not too much to blow a fuse and send the carrier into a despairing, confused blackout.
It is a substantial layer of 0.5kg per week.
Try it on piece by piece, assembling a costume to crawl up the axis onto the next stage of recovery. There, the world will be waiting to see what gargantuan monstrosity appears. Anonymous can feel the thrill of the onlooker waiting to see my transformation. Another layer that will be stripped back sometime, to reveal reality’s chuckling face: don’t flatter yourself. Who would even be interested?

In order to recover from anorexia, one must put on weight.
500 kcal more than this ample diet working it’s way through the time I have yet to get through.
500 kcal more than a diet already bursting at the seams. A diet stuffed full, and futile.
500 kcal more to be melted down and trickled down shrunken veins. Great canals of blood pumping 500 kcal into my heart. Galvanising my brain into action for a while. 500 kcal lathered over porous, brittle bones. They shiver when I pass a wheelchair, or see someone on crutches. Rattled, I cross myself. That could be you if you’re not careful.
One must eat 500 kcal more than they need to function as they are.
Here is the great sadness: I only function. I do not flourish.

Increasing is wearing. Food dances on my tongue, swilled around with the poisonous words Anonymous mutters as I chew. Anorexia poisons food with her thoughts so I don’t touch it. Every missed mouthful is consumed by my illness, just so it can maintain itself. It grows strong with less, as I will with more.
I have to put on this weight.

It has been a while since I last recognised an actual increase. They are starved off, strangers in the midst of a treatment plan. Anonymous is so paranoid about them trespassing into my mouth, that she randomly arrests any morsel of food she suspects to be dense enough to smuggle in illicit calories, and then brands the word “increase” upon it. She has cheapened a label, causing the value of a real life increase to sore. When I find one, it is to be held in bewilderment and awe.

I often find Ellie scavenging on these offcuts, desperately trying to find some indication that it had been real: she had really seen an increase. This usually happens the night before clinics, the night before she is to be put up and judged by her doctors: “So, Ellie. Did you increase?”
Let us look at last week’s plate of empty promise.
My milk measure bulges just over 200ml; four chia seeds spray onto my porridge as I open their packet; the barista making my skinny coffee looks shifty. Anonymous scrawls the word “increase” into my food log, and burns those extra calories before my eyes.
There is not enough fuel in these lies to maintain recovery.
In order to recover from anorexia, one must put on weight: 0.5kg per week.
In order to gain this weight, one must eat 500 kcal extra everyday, 7 days a week.
A heaped teaspoon of honey pales under scrutiny. That will have been an extra 22 kcal at the worst.

Anorexia has led Ellie to believe that 500 kcal is in touching distance. I am convinced that a small, painless tweak to my diet would be enough to send it spiralling up and out of this illness.
Everything becomes subject to calorie speculation. Predictions made based on anorexic data, drawn from the fact that any calorie will be a big one.

500 kcal is not as easy to get to as I think it is. Proof of how far anorexia addles a brain is found in my reluctance to face the ugly fact that 500 kcal is more than a heaped measurement, or even just an extra glass of coconut water at a dodgy time of day.
Ellie waves an avocado in my face: look, an increase! Well, this is certainly looks more like an increase. Half an avocado is a solid extra on your plate. A great lump of anxiety clogging up Anonymous’ clear run through the day, dodging food and triggers as she goes. Despite my wracked nerves comping through this meaty flesh – it isn’t enough.
Half an avocado? That’s 120 calories, tops. 380 to go now Ellie.
A banana? An almond? What about a smoothie?
The point only seems to show itself to me. Here is the point, sharpened and clear cut: I don’t want to get bigger.
I just want to be recovered. I just want the worst to be over. If only weight gain wasn’t so painful.

In order to recover from anorexia, I must forget where I left “enough”.
My “enough” was mine to find and mine to lose, my body’s requirements and my body’s right. My “enough” pales next to another persons, and there it awaits their judgement. My “enough” was left too long in anonymous hands, and was squeezed too hard.
My current “enough” looks too much by comparison: well over the recommended daily calorie allowance of a normal female of my age.
What was “enough” then, is not enough now. You need to eat more, Ellie.
It’s not enough.

I don’t know when recovery will ever be “enough”.
I have heard what is coming up there, above the ‘anorexic’ weight range. There, the anorexic is expected to roam, picking off food despite the number, no matter the feeling.
There will be so much matter to feel. The maintenance course is a heady dose with unpredictable, invisible side effects. Doctor’s will see me dragged upwards and ditch me at a BMI of 20: a number I have never let myself reach before. Not since I was 13.

Treatment starts with but is not limited to, a number.
I simply refuse to see how one can possibly make a story out of numbers. There is no character development or story twists when the plot just ambles up and down and across an axis, losing a bit of itself each time it looks down to check where it is, and where it might be heading.

Every week, my nurse repeats it.
Every week, my nutrition repeats it.
Every day, my parents remind me,
and every second, Anonymous avoids it.
500 kcal, everyday.
She doesn’t fight. She’s a coward. She’ll just shield her eyes to block out reality, and stay safe and stagnant in denial.
This week, I’ve been trying. I managed to meet a sort of increase, I think.

The moment to increase arrives and I feel unsure how to greet it. Should I just go for it? Stuff the ting in my mouth and hope it doesn’t come back to bite me later?
Or perhaps I’ll wait, give myself time to prepare for it. If I think it through, perhaps the thoughts will straighten out, order themselves on their own. The disorder will cease over time, won’t it?
Time is growing thick and going fast.
In order to keep up with time, I need to be putting on weight. I’m about to be left behind.

This morning there was a smoothie crisis. The smoothie in my meal plan was let out one or two kcal, in an effort to lure my diet up the great 500kcal. Ellie was granted permission to try a new smoothie, one she had been eyeing up out of a recipe book. This one would be thick and flavoursome, full and fruity. Frozen banana frothed up and foaming, thickened by avocado and sweetened with – get this – a medjool date. Spinach crunched in rapture. The calories would tip the day in favour of recovery, I could feel it.
So I did it. It slipped down, smooth and silky. It was heavy, leaning against the walls of my stomach and oozing through my intestine. A increase, surely – I finally found an increase.

The numbers lay low with the truth. They had to be lying when they denied an increase had ever passed through here. After running through it all over and over, I must concede here. That smoothie was not an increase. Anonymous simply replaced the original with a bulkier one, and docked a few calories later in the day, to make up for regret. All without me realising.

I cannot judge 500 kcal, but I will judge how I react to it. That increased feeling is both a punishment and a prize, depending on who I fight for.

All other variables aside, – confidence, communication, constant-crisis-aversion – the tale of treatment comes down to numbers. An incomprehensible series of numbers plotting Anonymous on her journey out of my life.
If I don’t gain any weight this week, I’m going to be in big trouble.
If I don’t increase my diet by 500 kcal in time to pull myself together, layer by layer, the doctor’s will carry out the fearful examination of my future in treatment they have been threatening since stagnation.
There will be a terrible reaction, and the rapid spread of anxiety and change; and it will be all my fault.

There is nothing else that will solve or explain weekly-weight-gain-gate, than fear. Only fear will tip me over the side of this crisis.

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You know what’s better than an EXTRA banana with coffee? An extra banana dipped IN the coffee.

I have a banana in my bag.
Ellie said today, I’d eat a banana with coffee. With – not instead of. So she put a banana in my bag.
Now, I have a banana in my bag.
With three days until my weigh-in, this is all I’ve got. An inability to cram, clear confusion, and an extra banana in my bag.
An extra 100 kcal.

In order to recover from anorexia, one must put on weight until the symptoms subside.
Treatment tries to weight out a voice, wait out a feeling. Eventually, they are said to grow small enough to be manageable.
Food will recover me, not cure me. Treatment seems to be the gathering of layers, pinching them together, tighter and tighter, compress them and squeeze them slowly until the pressure finally drops, and a character emerges. Thus, a story may start: featuring numbers, yes, but also feelings.

In order to gain 0.5kg per week, one must eat 500 kcal extra.
Note: an increase will never be found in a feeling; for it is only a number.

Reader: I hope you have picked up on the repetition in this post. For it is only by saying it over and over again, can the realisation be summoned to stand on the present ground.

What will happen if you gain weight, Ellie?
You’ll gain weight.
You’ll gain weight.
You’ll gain weight, and life will go on. So they say.
Only this time, you’ll be choosing to go with it.

There is nothing more I wish to add in this post. So long as I make a meal of weight gain, I don’t deserve to indulge myself sharing news and views.
Good things are important in recovery, but they are lonely without someone to be with.

I need to eat 500 kcal more today.
I need to eat 500 kcal more today.
I need to eat 500 more today, and everyday after that.
To recover from anorexia, I need to put on weight.

 

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.

To Curse and Cure

A swarm of good things descended, and spread change like a disease.
Last week, Anonymous contracted Hope.
What did I ever do to deserve all of this.
All these good things that started to happen were a curse. I hadn’t earned them, and I’ve been waiting for the repayment to start.

I still can’t quite believe how happy I was allowed to be, and how much that cost me.

I have squeezed more into the past seven days than I have managed in two anorexic years. A week so full, so bloated on life. Anonymous’ limit on how much I can bear began to split at the seams in angry, erratic panic. How greedy it seems to take all of this: all the opportunities presented to me over the last few days.

The first bit me as I dreamt about it. A vacancy for fulfilment opened up at the school I currently work at. The job description matched Ellie, and Ellie it. Details of personal qualities I’ve been working hard to claw back from Anonymous. So I applied, and set the dream aside into my imagination. I expected it to stay apart from me, and apart from my future. Then January rolled in and term began. Luck swept me into a job interview, and I landed it.
Hope’s venom thickened in my blood.

This positive poison then worked up what I had been putting off.
Denial has been eating up so much of my time. It has been cramming in sticky, unmade decisions, then swallowing them without trace. Eventually, it choked.
Denial could no longer put off the change that is edging closer as the year melts away. The first thing to be spat out, was university.
Perhaps you recall I had a place for Anonymous at Exeter university. It was deferred until September 2018, to give Ellie a chance at winning it back off anorexia. This oncoming deadline only a few months away has helped weigh down my recovery: I cannot chase a target moving away so quickly. Failure was the fibrous thought that flushed out my sudden change in plans. I needed a place at my local uni, the good one. Ellie will get her degree and her life back from this illness if it kills her – and it very nearly did.
With 48 hours until the UCAS deadline, there was nothing for it but adrenaline. A thin hope began to dilate as I dragged my family through an administrative war: the violent withdrawal, the hap-hazard stab at convincing my old professors to be my reference. I wrote my personal statement in 2 hours after crying about it for 7. I cobbled myself together with name, address, finance, education, work experience. Every passing hour was mined by triggers.
The air thinned in panic.
At 16:07, I came up on the other side. I will never do that to my family again.
Now, I am tending to the casualties of such a violent displacement of hope, and of relief.

My life tries to come together, drowning under control.

I don’t get on very well with Good Things. I never want them to get too close, to become too real. There’s always that chance that if I touch them, they’ll snap, bite back. Give way and let the facade fall to reveal an ugly truth.
When Good Things do come, I take care to keep fate from feeling jealous. I feed Fate with something bad, some repayment. It’s the only way I know it could still be kind to me. If it has something bad to digest, it already has something to store for the future that can make up for any fortune that comes my way. I save up the bad bits so I can splash out and try to enjoy something good.
I can control karma by balancing it on a knife edge. Or perhaps knocking it a few times against the wall, or slicing my meals in half. I bottle up exhaustion and keep it on ice, ready to barter with. Enticing Fate in a merry dance, I like to think I can see it, and predict it’s next move. Hear this Anonymous voice fooling itself into thinking it can order the future around.
This is Anorexia at it’s most toxic. Here, it feels like a reward, not a punishment.

My thoughts ventured out of control and got lost. They turned in on themselves and began to drown each other in deepening confusion. One latched onto the ongoing discussion of my treatment: inpatient? Psychologist? Maybe you just need some time away. To consider if you’re ready to recover. You’re taking up so much time and space doing nothing, going nowhere. What a waste, Ellie. Anonymous twisted an option into an ultimatum: they’re going to drop you. Leave us to fed for ourselves. I was going to be let go by my clinic: a lost cause. Another tragic statistic to be quoted to scare dithering politicians. That’s all you are, Ellie. Just another number.
Her ugly head raised to smell my sweat on the air. The sweetness of good things was burning a guilty hole in my head anyway; aided by my sudden leap at the opportunity of the new job and new hope for university. Out of this black place, Anonymous caught a scent of weakness and burrowed her way in. She inclined her head towards the rushing river, poked it out of a four-storey window. Only for a moment.
Then she blinked. She didn’t want that either. Focus on your food. That will district you for now: just watch your food.
I watched myself restrict food with morbid fascination. The desire to lose weight swelled so suddenly, I lost track of who was anorexia, and who was Ellie. Everyone sounded Anonymous.

Change was potent.

In the ED unit, I sat in my chair trying to work it all out. Build up any sort of sequence, string together some sort of explanation for my horrific reaction to all the good things infecting my life. How had I managed to infect the good with so much bad?
My nurse smiled. “There is nothing anorexia hates more than change.”

Symptoms of change ruptured as I started my new job. Having lunch in the staffroom threw up challenges all over my nice anorexic routine.

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Staffroom set up

Half an hour earlier than normal, I waded into lunchtime. Clutching a lunchbox and a newspaper, holding them up against the harsh sunlight streaming through the blinds. Dregs of yesterday’s tea fossilised onto the cutlery; plates towering up and out of the sink; spillages smeared on the walls and carpet. Soup bowls scraped clean but for the skid marks. A display that would have put any university student to shame. I ventured in another few minutes. I made for the corner of the room, and began to set up camp. Water, paper, napkin. Teacher-speak permeated the air. The New Year’s diet was on everyone’s tongues. A dinner lady received a hero’s welcome when she produced a tray of meaty leftovers. Fat curdled the air and shone from the lumps squeezing between each teacher’s fingers as they popped a couple of sausages in their mouths. Let us not forget that insolent man from the council who turned about the room, rubbing BO into the air. His meaty fingers massaged the slippery lining of pork scratching, rustling.
Itching. It was an assault when anorexia made me most vulnerable: when I was confronted by food as well.
On Friday, sore and exhausted from a week of staffroom endurance tests, Ellie summited a final challenge. People began to talk to me.
Anonymous bristled when the headmaster passed and said hello. Someone’s voice pierced the air mid-bite. Then, this woman sat opposite me at the table. She opened her soup fresh from the microwave, and began to swirl bread into it’s depths. I felt her consider me.
“A lot of tired faces about the school today, isn’t there?”
Anonymous spluttered at her audacity. To sit there, slurp soup and dare to disturb me and my lunch. There nerve she had to talk to an anorexic during her mealtime. A blitz of abuse was being hurled from one side of my mind to the other, all confined behind my blinking eyeballs. Not at her, but at me. She dared, because she didn’t know. You’re not thin enough.
Ellie held my tongue and ran from the temptation to cry for mercy, to be released from the clutches of this woman’s attention. She made me nod, smile, fork small talk out from somewhere in between mouthfuls of avocado. The poor woman. She was only trying to be nice.
I was watching Change trample over ground it already knew quite well. Change has happened at school, at my place of work. Here, Ellie, you are a teaching assistant. There is more to you than skin and bone. It was perhaps this moment of madness: not wanting to seem anorexic in favour of seeming competent, that rubbed change in my face.
It is still itching, worrying me. It just doesn’t feel right yet, I’m not used to it.
This will subside with practice. Each time I face an anxiety, it loses a little bit of it’s worth. The hyperinflation of anger, sorrow, alarm eventually makes the worry worthless and cheap. If only I had the courage to try and apply this to my weigh gain. Things might be different, it could all change.

Anorexia snared the first week in my new job. Anonymous waded into the week, gulping at air beyond the boarders of my control. Time began spent at the mercy of children, their education, and their innocent whims. Time spent out of my own head.
“Draw a shell Miss Davies! Can we have a story Miss Davies? You be the customer, welcome to my hairdresser’s!”
Miss Davies, why are you standing up?
Why, oh why, must all these activities be done sitting? What did Anonymous do to deserve that? The classroom air stiffened with the clamour,
One week in, I’ve made it out the other side. Carrying only a little of the anxiety I had to begin with. Anonymous, let it never be said again that emotional exhaustion is any less valid than the physical. Surviving a pile-up of children craning their necks to see the storybook, ears using up extra energy to guard against the noise and the sheer weight of worry whenever one child deigns to push the other; this is child’s play in comparison to forced positivity. Yet I carried it off and out, and feel lighter for it. As if it were the one carrying me, gently bringing me back down to earth as I leave at the end of the day. Ellie gets high on the joy for simple things. The comedown kicks in when she climbs back into herself to find Anonymous up, and waiting. Weighting.
After I’ve showered and shaken off the day, I remember.

Other side effects of change include a broken routine on Tuesday morning that wasn’t fixed by fear, but tolerance. Effort made room for reason and shifted onto my plate. I managed to share one of Mum’s home-cooked dhals, relishing the memories raised by it’s spicy aroma. Change haven’t approached the carbohydrates on my plate yet: I still trust nobody but Anonymous to weigh out my rice allowance. Even Ellie could accidentally sneak an extra 7g without even realising.
Let us not forget the great grievance of the week, that of the UCAS application. My window of opportunity to get it completed and submitted was lodged firmly in the afternoon, right when I should be walking. Panic threatened to get in on the action when I realised healthy people can sit and complete an application online: indeed for most people to think straight, it is positively mandatory. Ellie used Change as a bargaining chip, and negotiated a dietary restriction, a shorter walk at twilight and a standing desk for a complete application. Not ideal, but we managed.

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The most delicious supper ever, courtesy of Mummyji.

Recovery promises to teach me how to manage change. This I know, but have yet to feel. Every difficult test of my coping strategies fails, until I look around me, and realise Change has been sweeping me along without me even realising.

Sweaty feet edging towards the future suddenly grew cold.
Change was building up. It began to ooze into my routine, right from the moment I set foot in my new classroom. There was too much squeezed into one week: so I burst. Of course, just like that. My mess spurted out all over my family and smeared itself into my work, and my writing.
I speak as if I’m indifferent to how much has been achieved in one week alone. Anonymous is only too aware of how well Ellie did to put herself in a vulnerable position, then thrive.
I survived an interview. You’re sitting still for so long. My heart was burning more calories in stress than you’ll ever manage with a walk, anorexia.
I sent back a latte that was definitely not skinny just look at that thick creamy whiteness look look look.
I told Mum something. Something that happened, somethings that happened. A little piece I’ve been trying to shift ever since.
I should be proud of what has happened recently, but all I feel is guilty.

Perhaps that’s why I turned away recovery. With all this shiny newy-newness, I didn’t deserve recovery too. There isn’t room in my thin anorexic life for that as well.
I inflicted the bad to ward off the effects of good. It is hard not to punish myself for punishing myself because I wasn’t being punished.

I will arrange to meet Ellie on her next weigh in, to take stock. Change is, in itself, a sort of punishment. Something I have to get through in order to reap the rewards of time, and recovery – if it ever comes.

Sour Cherries

It always starts this way. Here, the world curls it’s toes over the edge of reason. The stable ground underfoot cracks, and breaks away. This is how it will surely end: with the beginning of a panic attack.

There is an intrusion. A thought starting to circle sluggishly at first, swooping around my mind with a great whoosh. Faster, faster. I can never keep up.
Then the ground breaks. Anxiety begins to build. Towers of hours top up the day. Waffled thoughts pile on thick slabs of anxiety, paving the way between mealtimes. Reading Ellie-numbers or working through the tough layers of anorexia at the clinic. A sugared rush to keep to my schedule – you’re late – a sudden drop in pressure to bake the day dry. Flashbacks glue together like treacle. The aroma of burning bridges when Anonymous makes me cancel, again. Then it will finally arrive. A single cherry crowns the day. It always starts like that: when the cherry plummets, tearing through folds of creamed reason. Ellie topples over. Only a molten, sticky mess it left to wade through. Wade through it I must, because Ellie is in there. Somewhere.

I can carry the cherry around awhile, sometimes. Together, Anonymous and Ellie totter along, bickering over what to do. Ellie would choose to ignore it, cast it aside. Anonymous though, is hungry. She’d rather devour every last feeling-filled morsel, spraying crumbs all over an unfortunate family member who happened upon us.
I become exhausted from carrying it around all day. Limping through each hour, pushing that small splinter of panic deeper into my side. How I wish I had pulled it out earlier, examined it, and flushed it away. How I wish the affected area could be cleaned of any worry. Too late now: it has turned the day rotten. Inevitably, it will hit a nerve. My legs buckle under the weight of the world, and so I simply let it crumble around me. Poison brings out the world in black and white: it’s all, or nothing.

Breakfast is particularly susceptible. I am careless in guarding myself against anxiety in the mornings. Perhaps it is in the twilit minutes waiting to be fed; perhaps feeling fresh and over-excited. Perhaps it is wishing the day had never arrived.
In any case, it is not a comfortable way to carry my self through the day.

Behold, a trigger. See, just over there: a waft of cooking from the kitchen. This piece of edible substance giving off an odour.
Go.
A gas is inhaled. Garlic; cumin; the buttery scent of pasta. Something fishy in the air. The air licks my face. Can you feel it sinking? Into my hair, into the follicles. Burrowing into my cells and diffusing into my bloodstream. My skin saps food from the air, and the kcal begin to topple into kg.
Panic clots up the narrow openings of my anorexic mind. I am pushed into a place where reason fears to tread, and I cannot see. I can’t see how I can begin to save Ellie from the oncoming tide of pain. This Anonymous feeling pulls me under. There the world must end: here, when I am made the prey of an anxiety attack.

It doesn’t always work this way. If only there were a simple step-by-step criteria for the perfect anxiety attack. If only I could predict what and where and who – if only there was some warning: a why.
Anxiety’s system is broken. Sometimes, it takes all day to warm up. Only peaking when everything gets too much. Others, it lashes out and grips me from behind. A solo flight riding on shock: gotcha.
The system of panic attacks is broken, because it just doesn’t work. The moment is jarred by self harm or screaming: but it only backs away a little. Waiting around the corner the to get me the day after, or the day after that. I am being preyed on by my own self-defence.

Every week I tear cherries from my chest. My doctor will not help me clean up the gory splatters left behind. They are a mark in history, she said. They can tell us what happened, they can help us learn.
Sometimes to understand what happened, one must start at the end and work backwards. The end is all I have: the here and now.
Try and stop the here and now sink into my imagination. Swallowed up and churned about with what is real, and what is not.
I can get there before Anorexia. I’ve managed before, and I’ll try again next time. Even if I fail, again.

I waited for my family to return from their trip to the curryhouse. A ceasefire had been negotiated whereby my family would strip down when they arrived home, thereby confining the carriers of smell into the utility room. Anonymous licked her lips nervously, already catching the scent of vindaloo in the air. She was building up for a big one.
It doesn’t always have to end this way, Ellie.
I barricaded myself upstairs, and listened as jollity and jackets were stripped off and stuffed into tomorrow’s pile of dirty washing. The air neutralised, and I tried to communicate with what was real. I listened to my family help me. I smelt the pong of madras pollute the house until my brother opened all the windows. Gradually, reality ate away my anxiety, and I emerge. Limping away from that cherry.

Picking Ellie up after a crisis can take time. I explore her limits: temples, palms, squelching eye sockets. Fingers stretch to her end and toes wriggle. Earthed on the floor. Here is where you end: this is real. Here is the beginning. Start again.

I swallow the future in anticipation. Anonymous tinkers at the present with her wise imagination, applying this and accepting that. Going over and over every possibility until she is certain of every fiction, checking and double checking, round and round and
round, what if no stop yes but no please no
Stop.
That thought never leaves. It festers, gradually provoking my worst fear into coming true.
It’s like asking someone to stop, please leave – but they just carry on.

And on I am carried. Backwards: in a flash, the present presses play on the past. Hard.
My flashbacks don’t just leap upon me. Some of them creep. Tripping along, wading through another dull day. Then I realise I’m being watched again.
Re-minding is violent. Attention is torn from sense, the here from the now. It is hurled back to another place, another time. Old stomping ground now overgrown with barbed judgements, and great memory blocks. I remember, I remember. I remember when it was dismembered.
The smell arrives last. Weed. Waste. Skin and sweat; soured sex. It lingers, perving. Long enough to stuff another cherry in my mouth, but not long enough to give me any answers.
Stuck under my skin, reliving it again and again. And still, I don’t understand what I’m seeing. I still don’t understand what happened to me, what I let happen.
You let this happen.

Something made me ready to topple into Anorexia at university. I was fertile for it, having been exposed to a few bad apples here and there, treacherous conditions and being left out in the cold. University was a very rotten cherry, topping a building mental health crisis. The more I explore it, the more I realise that university aggravated my illness, but didn’t necessary cause it. I have always had anorexia, but she didn’t always have me.

My psychologist assessments will start soon. The first approaches like a nurse with a needle. This might hurt. Turn back, look back.
Sharp scratch.

Cross your mind, pass Anorexia. Look back, what Anonymous told me was derelict is writhing. Breathing, and furious. Memories grown rancid with neglect, regret. I don’t recognise a single event: this is just a jumble of words, smells, sounds. And feelings, so many feeling. Disorderly and drunk from the sedation of starvation. These memories are still woozy, but they are waking up. I can feel it, they are coming back to get me.
It’s real. It just seems so real.

My feeling have gotten fatter in recovery. The extra kg I have gained recently have ripped the banks of memory open wider. Banks of reason falling into the mad rush of anger, sorrow, joy, confusion. I feel dilated. I feel fat. Too big for the here and now.
So I stopped.
But Ellie, you’re not fat yet. I’m halfway to weight restored, and now I am terrified to taking the next step. The ground might break.
And how will that end?

Yet Ellie has forced me into the new year, eyes on the horizon. There is much to keep her busy: going back to school, going back to yoga, going back out of winter. Going back.
She is trying to edge forwards a little. A job interview and spanish evening classes embellish the return of recovery. Return it must.
I can’t stay this weight forever, that’s just too much to bear. I cannot make a story out of numbers.
There is more for me out there. If only there was somewhere easier to start, than this end.

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Being published in the Sunday Times was rather a positive start to the year!

The Chronicles of Christmas

Christmas was there, peering over the cusp of just a few days. The atmosphere had mounted advent. It was building, it was beginning to charge. Excitement clashed with stress on the streets, fear melted down by nostalgia’s wrath at home.
Anxiety was lit up like a Christmas tree. Great flashing figures were frozen in a festive stance, dangling off anorexic branches. They’d slip – surely.
The tree was bloated with presents, my family feverish with festivity. I watched them in the grip of Christmas, and grieved for the joy I still cannot hold onto whilst clinging to Anorexia.
This year though, I touched it. I felt for the joy Anonymous has trained me to turn against, and I touched it. I unwrapped Christmas, and found a collection of moments.
They are mine forever, to treasure and keep.

Christmas day itself was so bright, I was blinded.

The pandemic of stress sweeping across the world’s kitchens on the 25th December was baying in the oven. My parents’ time plan was lathered in goose fat, and it began to slip about under the pressure. I had prepared anxiety for the onslaught of smell and stress and sobs and sighs that would ensue in preparation of my family’s Christmas lunch. Even walking the long way around the house, I felt my father sweat. That turkey was cooked by his concentration if nothing else. Perhaps it was the looming scrutiny of the nine family members, perhaps it was the heat. Perhaps it’s just because it is Christmas. It happens every year in every household, so I had to be prepared for it.
So it was to be that I would avoid the kitchen at all costs, and plate up a cold meal at the last minute. It was with some reluctance that I agreed to try something different for lunch on Christmas day. Something special, to celebrate a year of recovery wins. I opened my ‘safe’ cookbook, pulled my calculator towards me, and began to break down each recipe. Pencil marks branded each serving size a calorie content. It was by this process of elimination that I made my choice. A herbed nut loaf. This Anonymous-approved meal, prepared the day before, was not without it’s own festive surprises. I measured out a serving size – a sixth: 3cm – and began to saw away at the dry crust. Specs of nut fell away from the knife’s blade. The wrinkled skin cracked from side to side, and chunks of squash sank out of sight. The walls of my nut loaf trembled: and suddenly I couldn’t tell what was slice and what wasn’t. 3cm of crumble collapsed, again and again. I butchered the remainder of the loaf, eventually salvaging 2 cm of crust and a spoonful of crumble. Whilst my cousins filed past, plates piled with parsnip and potatoes, I glared at my plate. Daring it to be bigger than I had convinced myself it really was.
This dry pile of crumbs had some calories left over from my usual lunchtime quota, so Ellie cut up a fig and weighed out an apple. Anything to wet my appetite that was rapidly decreasing as the day wore on, pushing me towards my place at the dining table.
There was a saga with the sprouts. These green gems, these misunderstood buds of festive joy: the only part of the traditional Christmas meal I have ever negotiated with Anonymous. As the kitchen was hotting up, the lunchtime hour nearly upon us, I became aware that our deal was under threat. It was carnage in the kitchen. Too many hands and too many cooks manhandling too many of my clean, innocent sprouts. Anonymous had no idea how the sprouts were going to be boiled. She had always held her vegetables hostage, but now they were being lost in the family feast. Unable to hold it down, I threw these words over my parents as they edged down their to-do list. One solution would have been to take a handful, and boil them separately in the annexe. That way I could monitor them. But that wasn’t the point: this simply is not the point of a gathering at Christmas time. The whole day, Ellie had been fighting to feel included. I wanted to share the responsibility of sprout-consumption; I wanted to walk on common ground in the conversation after the meal: “delicious sprouts”. Thus I had to persuade Anonymous to hand over control of them. She didn’t want to let them go, she didn’t know how they would be treated. Would they be subjected to seasoning? Salt, sugar? Unnecessary sprinkles over their delicate skin? What of the saucepan: had it been washed throughly – was it clean enough? Was this not the pan you used to boil your ham in yesterday? I conjured calories from the dregs, and watched them sink beneath the boiling water that the sprouts were dancing in. Mum, Dad, how will I know?
You just have to trust us.
Yes, but how will I know?
Ellie considered this. She peered past their flushed, frantic faces, into the steamy kitchen. The stress sprouts were causing me was decidedly less than that of chaotic Christmas cooking, which my parents were just about on top of. They could do without this, Ellie. We could all use do without this. You just have to trust them.
Celebrate the trust I have, despite the doubts I am desperate to unload.
The sprouts survived the cooking. They made it to the serving bowl, to the sideboard. I nearly did too, only stumbling when I picked up a clean spoon to take some. There was meat on that sideboard; bacon. Bread sauce, gravy spittle. Nothing looked clean to Anonymous if I had been dirtied by a blind eye.

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How controversial.

At the table, Ellie perched on her pain threshold. I picked up my knife and fork, which Anonymous swiftly took and began to stab me with: goodness, what enormous cutlery. The prongs were silver and strong, great gulfs torn between them. The knife would have flattened my nut loaf in one sitting. My first mouthful of that Christmas meal was air. I peeled away from the table unannounced, and reappeared clutching my small knife and fork. Ellie settled into her chair, and turned to her right. The conversations around the table were woven with each other. Voices layered over each other, pauses to pour wine or drink wine or dine with wine. Alcohol was an anxiety that ran away from me during the meal: I had expected it, for it was Christmas.
To my right, my grandfather and I shared sparkling water. I paced my mouthfuls, trying to match his so I might close the gap between finishing my meal, and waiting for others to finish theirs. With no food to watch, Anonymous’ eyes begin to wander, and they often settle on me, sitting there, wasting away under the onslaught of calories I just consumed just by waiting for someone else to finish their meal. The minutes restrained by etiquette dig into my side. My grandfather tore a shred of turkey off with his fork. He sliced a sprout, he speared it, he swirled it in thick, velvety gravy. The crust of roast potato crunched and crumpled against a smooth ball of stuffing. A small morsel assembled carefully, mindfully. He lifted it to his lips. Then paused. He finished his sentence: string of wise words spread before me. I couldn’t read them properly, anxiety was starting to blind me with spots of electric panic. The clock was ticking, and my nerves were racking up calories. When the full stop dropped, he placed this delicate forkful in his mouth, and began to chew. Once, twice, again. And again. Time sank back into my seat as he picked up the conversation again. That wonderful, soul-reviving morsel anorexia starves me of. Oh Ellie, I’m so hungry for this. I’m craving contact with people left on the other side of your illness. How sad for my grandfather’s wisdom was wasted on a narrow, anorexic rhetoric.
Where I hung off his every word, I felt Anonymous claw at them, shove them aside, hurry them along. And it hurt to watch: it was painful to endure. The Christmas dinner fight will be defined by my insistence on listening to my grandfather speak, at least until other people got up for seconds.
I lasted through that course. By the time heads were turning to their empty plates, inclining towards the kitchen where trifle and figgy pudding and cream and chocolates lay in wait, I was exhausted. So I retreated. I put my knife and fork together, and left them all to it.

I had identified possible black spots on Christmas day. The sticky bits I would be expected to sit still, and the stale ones where I knew Anonymous would force me into exile. The times Ellie would gasp for air, away from the fug of fun she still can’t quite manage in more than hourly bursts. On my time plan, I scheduled in scraps of activity I could chuck at Anonymous, just to keep her quiet. In the bleak midwinter of the afternoon, those sickly hours between 2 and 4, I shouldered Anorexia and heaved it outside into the cold. Onto a public footpath. Until I reached the summit of anxiety, and it all calmed down with the setting sun.

I needed breakfast before church: nobody sings well on an empty stomach. Nor can they walk up the rectory footpath, stand and sit and stand and sit at the organ’s cue. Without breakfast, Ellie, where will you summon the energy from to shiver in the pews, or cling to the words of God? How will you focus on your faith. This tattered faith. The one so unrecognisable in this anorexic war. Yet here it still is, it survived. What can this faith give you, but the courage to be still for an hour during this Christmas service.
Walking up the lane, I asked my Mum yet again if it was ok to sit. The third time, she took my hand and sighed. “Ellie, of course it is ok.” then she leaned in, making sure the gravestones were out of earshot. “That’s why God gave you a bottom!”

In the lead up to Christmas, I worked my way through a to-do list, staying busy, staying Anonymous. I was being chased towards the big day, when it became clear that I was missing something.
At the end of term, the reception class put on a Nativity play. Alas, this was not the simple tale of the birth of Christ. Lo, let it not be presumed that Mary and Joseph hunkered down in a stable before the divine child. This is not what happened, according to the children. What really happened, actually, was a cow picked a fight with Joseph. One of the Kings had a toilet break during their dance and the sheep were in fact better at herding a flock of four-year olds than the shepherds. The angels never did grasp just how far to not pull their dresses up on stage. The Inn Keeper had less to say about the whole thing than the Inn’s Door. As for the Inn Keeper’s wife, well. Disgruntled puts it plainly. Away in a manger, life went on. I was lucky enough to witness this retelling, and humbled by the hope they conveyed in their Christmas message, however unwittingly. Here, take this old news: this good, hopeful news. Fresh from a four-year old: here is a story of hope.

Here I present to you the Chronicles of Christmas, these acts of faith. I earned back confidence in myself. The best thing is: I coped with it too.

I made it to the summit of the festive season, overcoming the scarp of social events and high altitudes of emotions I can barely contain on a day-to-day basis.
I allowed myself an extra 50kcal at breakfast: because it is Christmas.
Even being able to eat breakfast at the kitchen table – for 7 consecutive days – without moving the clutter of Christmas decorations off it, is quite a feat. Not least because Anonymous has had me exiled into the utility room during my meals up until now. How wonderful it is to eat somewhere warm, to be allowed to enjoy a meal in entirety without sacrificing something.
Faith follows me like a shadow. I can never quite see it in entirety. Nor do I realise it is there, stalking every step I take. This Christmas made me grieve for what I lost, and protect what I have. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to bring it into the new year.

This Christmas gave me time with my family, the most precious thing Anorexia took from me.
A collection of moments: making crackers, decorating the tree, riding the air closer to the big day. We haven’t watched Love Actually yet, that’s tomorrow night.
’Tis the time of year to celebrate what we have, despite all we must carry.
There is no present, like the time.

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“Merry Christmas all! And Happy New Year.” x

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.