It had the warmth of my Mum’s home-cooking.
The slimy texture of those first-year student meals; the bite of cold night air, huddling round a campfire.
It satisfied the ravenous rower, nervous harpist, and now this hungry girl.
It’s been a long time coming over that carb-heavy hill. I promised pasta a plate at the dinner table long ago. Anonymous made endless false promises and moved milestones. Then Ellie remembered a promise she made to herself: when I reach 50kg, I’ll eat pasta. When I run again, I’ll eat pasta.
10 months and 6 months late, respectively: of course her excitement was beginning to boil over.
I tentatively picked up a packet down the whole-food aisle, and sized up the calories. It’s only pasta, Ellie.
A delicate twirl of wheat once wound round Anonymous’ little finger.
Now, the bland taste of folded fears.
Now mine, all mine.
… and so the story goes.
But this is no joke. This anorexic actually did walk into a bar. She pulled a green number off the rails and painted a face over the frown. She held her head up high, tossed her hair back and laughed until the second hour in that steamy room passed. Then, I let her retreat.
I’m writing this still in my Christmas party outfit. I walked through the door moments ago; made a hot water bottle, washed my hands, and sank into the ringing silence.
Anonymous isn’t good at parties. She just doesn’t know how to do any of it. Her talk is small, her mind narrowed by a crushing awareness of the vastness of her own voice. She’ll stick to me like sweat, my beaded awkwardness glimmering for all to see. She has the arrogance to climb into other people’s heads and guess exactly what they are thinking: that they would be thinking anything of me at all. For Anonymous, it’s all about me.
Anorexia is a heavy body to carry around. She stands out in Ellie’s eyes and no one else’s, and so sets Ellie on the outside of that bustling, lively party.
It is for this reason that I decided to go. There seems no better opportunity to practice being around people than the staff Christmas party at my new job. Not many people here have been introduced to Anonymous yet. Our interactions have managed to thus far be uncrowded by her presence. It is in many ways a neutral setting, made nice by such friendly people. An appealing thought, and an excuse to dress up and make an effort. An obligation to.
I’m trying to learn how to integrate into my generation, and socialise myself. Sometimes it comes naturally; others are lost under an anorexic surge.
Dread and excitement lead the preparation danse macabre. Choosing an outfit felt so easy with my Mum nodding and smiling. Alone back at the flat, twirling in front of the mirror clad in velvet and gold, I could see anorexia wringing her hands in despair.
The jumpsuit I had chosen was different to Anonymous’ usual style. She knows to wear fitted clothes around all the protrusions, to highlight her boney assets enough to inform anyone she encounters to have caution: don’t hurt the sick girl. Until she or Ellie decides what to do about the other bits: those fleshy clumps of recovery around my arms and chest, she hides them under layers.
When Ellie pulled on that cloth of green velvet, Anorexia’s eyebrow raised with my anxiety. She couldn’t quite tell if she’d look fat standing next to someone else. The shadows snaking from my arm hairs made my flesh bulge before me. Thin straps melted into my bulbous limbs. A snapshot of all the pictures I’d be trapped in for virtual eternity flashed before my eyes. She made me practice poses to cover the bad bits, which I of course forgot when confronted by a tipsy colleague with a camera.
Then the pragmatics shunted my meal plan into special measures. I’d have to be late for the party so that I could eat supper at home in peace. Already, I was setting Ellie apart from the party. Already, she wasn’t in on the joke.
I rode to the bar with questions stabbing my esteem.
Will I look fat?
I’m so late, will there be a queue to get in?
Am I fun enough for this?
Nobody has texted, would they even notice if I didn’t turn up?
Am I fun enough for this?
Can I enjoy this?
Ellie gripped the steering wheel and took a deep breath. These are the problems she wanted to resolve tonight. We are going to find out.
I managed two hours. The only stranger in the room was my Self; and so was grateful to walk into a room of festive, happy faces. Alcohol fugged up the space between me and them: my sober eyes watched them knock back drinks and merriment with envy. They were all having so much fun.
That alone was enough to make me happy for the evening. That I could witness and even take part in such a festive celebration meant I left at 10pm feeling at peace with my decision to go.
This sweet stench ripening in the fibres of my coat is a pungent trophy for not letting Anonymous run scared at the first whiff of cocktail-infused air. A film of residue from the steamy fug in there wrapped her under that which she fears most: the calories floating in the smells of forbidden foodstuffs. Alcohol is a particularly potent fear, but Ellie is firm in her assurance that I cannot catch calories from that air.
And now, still typing in that coat, I can say I am pleased I went tonight. I’ve been reminded of how far recovery has stretched the limits of Anorexia’s tolerance (just past the time where exhaustion begins to enlarge worry into anxiety), and have appraised the challenges to be taken on, somewhere in that murky future.
Apart from anything else, I needed to get out this evening. Only now I’m cosy in my new flat, do I realise that the absence of fear or threat leaves nothing behind it but Me. I know loneliness lives with everyone, but I actually spoke to it a few nights ago. I had spent hours creating a beautiful revision poster, then realised I had no one to show it to.
My body has come back to bite me.
My stomach reached out of itself to grasp the cool, quiet air. Gastric trumpets blared. A symphony of whistling intestines sang through gasping buttocks and dilating glands. The dark had eaten the sheets beneath me, there was nothing to see but vibrant night air. The tummy cramps, the gas, the groaning, and breathlessness. I might have been back in Singapore again; when I was curled up on Diagnosis Day, cradling a full stomach for the first time in months.
Last night, my body reacted to help in exactly the same way. This, it’s elaborate way of informing me that it was not at all pleased with how I had been treating myself of late. Only when the pressure drops does it ever start acting up. I was safely tucked up, and far away from the torment of the last 61 sleepless nights. My body sighed with relief and filled my bedroom with it’s heavy damp breath.
I’ve come away from an edge. Let me describe it, now I can see it clearly in retrospect.
That hopeful shape there was my accommodation: notice how it was hollowed out by fear. In a single day, the little flat that I had been so excited to move to cracked into pieces. Shards of anger and frustration still prickle, as if we’re still there.
I was stuck in a hole, down which my neighbours burrowed and conspired to fug my flat up with ghosts. The pungent fumes of substances strangled me in my sleep. Night would creep in and I would cower, waiting for the screams to start. So I never slept. I caught bursts of fitful dreams, but woke and leapt to the window in case I needed to get out quick.
The noise bit the days and nights into pieces. I became a stranger in my own home, for I was living downstairs with them: listening and following their footsteps, trying to work out when I would be in danger. I scavenged an hour or two each week for myself. I’d stare aimlessly into the time, searching for another piece of hope to cling to. I was always tripping over the threshold of my own tolerance. It is clear now, that it was because I was being pushed.
Every day, and every night.
And now, I’m out. I move tentatively around my new flat, frightened of getting too cosy and tempting fate to ruin this one too. It’s nice here, I like it.
My body is already giving itself away. Only it would be weak enough to believe history won’t repeat itself again so soon. The symptoms of relief have flared up like a rash. A handful of proper night’s sleep, food I could actually taste and quiet I could hear have done this. The air is so clean it feels too good for my lungs. Being safe has done this to me.
One day, I’ll believe I’m safe too. It certainly feels that way – I’ve even been thinking of getting a Christmas tree.
This is a body unsure of how to function without the guidance of threat. Anxiety’s grip has been ripped from my gut, where it as been squeezing hope out of my pores like sweat. My Anonymous body fled out of control. I crept into my lecture today and tried to muffle the groans. Barfs incarcerated in my throat, and exhaustion fogged up the lecture slides. I struggled to walk up my road, suddenly dragged under a benign wave of exhaustion. After fighting to maintain my weight, a little give here suddenly let it leak. Out drained a kilo.
This discomfort will be short lived. I pray the reason for such violent, euphoric relief will not be.
I’m now clinging onto anything to validate my anxiety. Suddenly, all my essays are failing. Christmas begins to tread on my toes and my job shifts jut out rudely, spilling into the days either side. I can’t wait to relax. I can’t wait to come down and calm down, to look upon the world without hyperbole or catastrophe.
I am grateful to have jumped off the world into a dizzying dancing wave of relief. If only I could stop a while, and gather my self together. But I am strewn far and wide over a job, deadlines, an illness. A family and Christmas and meal planning. Endless lists holding me in place. This safe, sacred space.
I can work to be happy here. I intend to try.
I do not wish to relive the turmoil of the last two months here.
Instead, I’ve picked out some little things that have helped me through it.
Every evening I write down 3 good things that happened Today. Then that day can be put to rest, and all it’s moments with it.
Here are some of the good ones …
“I saw a live badger.” – 7th October 2018
“I was voted in as Opinion Editor for the Student Newspaper.” 11th October 2018
“Someone held a door open for me” 15th October 2018
“I slept well last night” 17th October 2018
“Singing “Be Like Him” in Gospel choir gave me goosebumps” 19th October 2018
“I brought Mummy some flowers” 25th October 2018
“My vegetable crisps were in one piece at lunch” 30th October 2018
“My nurse has died her hair pink!” 31st October 2018
“A nice stranger and his dog helped me during an anxiety attack. (I now want a Tibetan terrier!)” 5th November 2018
“Clean bedsheets” 6th November 2018
“I ate a toastie!” 8th November 2018
“The feeling of a brand new hairbrush mmmmm” 13th November 2018
“Wore some lipstick to uni” 14th November 2018
“Had the best evening with Lottie” 15th November 2018
“I got a job at Anthropologie” 16th November 2018
“Coldplay came on the radio” 20th November 2018
“I really love my Mum and Dad.” – everyday.
One day, maybe Tomorrow, I will look back on Today. By then, all the bad stuff will be a blip.
Unless I’ve injured myself.
On campus, Anorexia has worked to maintain Anonymity.
She allows me to turn up (the long way round, to squeeze in some extra steps), get my head down, and keep it there. Down there, I write. I scribble and scrawl, I think until my legs vibrate under the table. The effort lashes my brain into action: keep up, keep up, keep it up. Stuck to my pencil case is a post-it note, a luminous square stemming the steady leak of anorexic thoughts. “Your brain is a muscle too”.
And so, it must work. Just to persuade my legs to stay stagnant, to convince my throat to swallow, to prove I can do it – my brain must work.
In some ways, it is quite useful. The work is delicious: syrupy lines of poetry, juicy chunks of prose, long and indulgent writing workshops. Thick, waffly passages from some overrated critical theorist. Each lecture is a feast. I stuff myself with the point of it all, grinding everything down until it is a filling ball of purpose. I let it consume me, and take refuge in it’s vastness. Anorexia has trouble finding me here.
The work is such a brilliant escape plan. It almost offers Anonymous another home, a seasonal escape. It gives her something else to use, something else to eat.
I race my lecturer through her notes, jumping on the next conclusion ravenously. Please feed my starving brain, please give it something to chew on that isn’t the duration of time I’ve been forced to sit here and grow sedentary.
Only a couple of times has it gone into overdrive, and anorexia takes control. I stand up, I leave the seminar. I let my legs take the strain. Exhaustion is a familiar place, and a comfort.
I’ve adapted my diet to this strange land of libraries and liberals. Ellie takes care to calculate the precise amount of calories she’ll need to consume days in advance, and presumes anorexia will comply when the time comes.
A portion of my day is spent roasting vegetables, boiling quinoa, whipping up dressings. They’re all stored in neat tubs in my fridge, until they’re packed up and taken on their final outing after a lunchtime lecture.
When I prepare food, Ellie prepares herself. Together we cook up a plan to eat properly tomorrow. It’s all part of this great heist to take back my life from my eating disorder.
The terrain here is harsh. It is sensory assault, inflicted by a campus wide cultivation of the survival of the fittest.
The Sports Park glitters just moments from my classroom. Work-out sessions and fitbit competitions crown the social calendar. Student life is mined with anorexic traps. Already I have been caught a few times: I’ve joined the gym, and used it. I’ve been on a fun run, and even did some dancing. I let Ellie loose into a group of people who didn’t know that, to them, I’d always be Anonymous. The twisted bit is, I feel amazing. It’s a slipper slope, and Ellie already wishes we hadn’t injected these extra bits of exercise. Anorexia has an addictive personality.
How I wish I could say I’ve come out better for it. But the bruising, the twinging, the sinister grinding of my leg bones. Osteoporosis haunts me as I nurse my feet at night. Why must anorexia ignore it’s warnings?
And now, the people. Other cell-structures allegedly functioning on a similar biological level. How can they tolerate their campus being consumed by food?
The popcorn passed round lecture halls; the street food outlets stalking the corridors, the greasy mark of a long digested pizza. A confetti of croissant crumbs that somehow spray in between the desk edges. The cake brandished in our faces as if free food were a weapon. Every seminar carries the stench of whimsy. My concentration slips in the fug of steaming doughnuts and noodle cartons. I had forgotten how integral food is to student life. Perhaps that’s why I turned on it so determinedly at Manchester.
My calorie radar has been triggered several times by the simple presence of another person. Excessive after shave and powerful perfumes grab anorexia by the throat and hack calories out of thin air. Paranoia sniffs out offenders and tries to sit as far away as possible from them. For the disgruntled few who turn up late and sit beside me, I can only apologise. I’m Anonymous: so I have to move my desk away from you.
You might make me fat.
Anonymous makes herself a bit of a spectacle.
She is a talking point after class: “why did that girl not talk to any of us?”. She makes a repellant of herself quite accidentally, by jiggling her legs under the desk, or fidgeting. She shakes the calories out from under her skin, even during the most enthralling discussions. She doesn’t sit down until the lecture finally begins, but prowls round and round her chair, sizing it up and preparing herself for the gruelling 50 mins ahead.
After class, Anonymous disappears. She takes the long walk around the lake, desperately trying to make up for the gluttony of sitting so long in a classroom.
People here don’t know me as Anonymous. I introduced myself as Ellie, and use her skin as a mask. On my anxious days, I pretend to be Ellie just by turning up. Sometimes, just making myself go is the biggest anorexic challenge. It looks so big up there, and it will eat me alive.
My Anonymous mask has slipped a bit as of late.
After a terrible anxiety attack (more on which later,) I forced Ellie into a meeting for the student newspaper. A 2 minute speech, regurgitation of confidence past and a rush of blood to the head later, I was voted in as the new Opinions editor. Anonymous, indeed.
I’ve also managed to let one or two people in. Not so far as to show them my Anonymous side, but enough for Ellie to believe they are her friends. She feels quite content with this, a little bonus to the whole thing. I hadn’t expected to make any friends. I really thought Anxiety was set on preventing it altogether. Something must have eaten that sentiment up. It’s quite nice being around young people again.
And they are very young, really. I’m but four years older than them, and somehow have missed the generation memo. This snapchat lingo is baffling. I’ve a Fear Of Missing Out on where it is I can take refuge from my own ignorance: what pray, is beef? As an anorexic vegetarian, I hope to never have any, with any of them. The crisis was well and truly announced when my lecturer paused mid-sentence: “In Friends … you’re probably too young for Friends”.
Covering for Anonymous is exhausting, but I’ve really enjoyed my first few weeks at uni. And now, the but. For there is always a but.
Something has been eating me. Devouring, actually.
It is souring all the good things to tell about my first three weeks at University. All the joy has gone bland. All the hope, now bitter.
I’m being marinaded in my own sweat, and perfectly seasoned for a relapse.
It is a particularly delicious time to be gobbled up by Anxiety. There is so much to me: so many meaty changes, fresh excitement and pick-of-the-crop opportunities to let Ellie do well. I’ve moved out, started university, eaten white potatoes again.
And now, the but.
I’m being eaten alive in my flat, and I’m not supposed to talk about it.
I’m beside myself now, and will persuade it to open up to you a little. I can’t give details, but can lend some feeling.
Each day I am lured back to my flat, looking forward to some solitude, some peace, some slack from all the challenges that pull at Anonymous. Somewhere for Anonymous to retreat from battle, for Ellie to lay down her weapons and books, and bak away from the reality of it all. The sheer hustle and bustle of a life once lived, and starved.
Then it bites. A smog curls up from below and smothers hope in it’s sleep. I wake up every morning to the nightmare I had tried to escape last time. The past smells sickly sweet, and it lingers on the air. Distress tattooed across my forehead in black and blue. Angry lashes against the floor and the noise levels, anxious explosions ignited by the sweet stench floating in the air.
These are all the details I am willing to give at the moment. All that is left to say is that there are no words to describe the distress I’ve been in over the situation I’ve found myself in.
I didn’t put her here, not again.
Why, why am I being put through this again? Just when everything else was going so well – there had to be some reason for me to recoil in Anorexia’s arms. She feels just as frightened and out of control as I.
What’s worse, is the whole thing is exhausting. For now there is no slack: I’m challenged at uni, and challenged at home.
We’re all just waiting for something to give.
If I have to move home again, I will be destroyed. Anorexia won’t cope with the commute and the lectures, she won’t manage so much sitting in one day. Not with food too. She will lash out under scrutiny and burrow down a black hole to grieve.
Until I know whether or not I can stay here, I’m just trying to hold it together.
Bits of Ellie flake away.
Anonymous tears time from my day one hour at a time, like petals.
All I can do it stuff Anorexia full of work and distraction, and hope she can’t speak with her mouth full.
This week, it worked.
Despite the anxiety, the cruel series of unfortunate events unfurling in my flat, the exercise, the food stalking me in the corridors – I’ve held it.
I held it all together: every 50kg.
Let me just unpack all my thoughts, then I can arrange them on the page. I want this all out in an orderly fashion, following the straight lines of my priorities.
Don’t trip over these big, scary ones. They’re heavy and might rattle if you shake them, but I’ve lugged them all the way here, into my new flat.
They have some use, even if only for Anonymous.
The first to unwrap is this precious parcel: my clinic.
My recovery is something I carry around wherever I go. It sits tight at the back of my mind. Of course, it got a little shaken up when I moved to university. Not damaged exactly, but warped.
By complete coincidence, the form of my treatment changed just as the rest of my life did too. Not only have I moved out, started uni – I’ve also moved nurse, and started schema therapy.
My university timetable squeezed the pockets of time open for me to see my separate doctors, so now my support has shrunken to a snug size of a psychologist doing weight monitoring. This is just until the schema therapy is over, then I can go back to my other nurse. I was prepped and prepared for all this, and I consented to it. Only at the very last minute of my final appointment, when we were wrapping up the final issues, did I realise what a hole was being left.
I’ve developed such a close working relationship with my nurse, one where even Anonymous can be honest. She’ll be there when the rest of the therapy is over, but still. The ground suddenly felt a little wobbly.
That is not to say my psychologist is any less than what I need and am grateful for. We are making progress with the therapy, and it interests me. If only I could understand the chaotic order of my synapses as she does. If only I could at least be a little bit more honest with her about what those synapses make me do. This will come. Time lugs these things around, eventually.
Moving out has actually been fun.
Anonymous isn’t quite sure what to make of it yet. I feel her gripping onto my meal plan for dear life, and get queasy from the thoughts of extra exercise she slipped into my packing. I open up a pandora’s box of opportunity here at university: societies, sports, complete freedom to go where I please and not have to tell anyone.
I have acted on these thoughts this week, but I’ll get to that later. It can fester out of mind for a while, there are so many more important things I need to set out here first.
Whilst organising all this stuff, University leapt out at me like a jack-in-the-box. I didn’t do the freshers thing – I’m old, boring, and disinterested – but I did turn up on campus to register and for the fresher’s fair.
I was under strict instructions to pull the hood over my anorexic eyes and walk straight past the sports societies. Salivating stands clad in blue and gold, varsity hoodies and endorphins. Anonymous could smell the opportunity from the moment I applied to the university, even Ellie found herself drawn to the opportunity of joining a team. She began to eat a little more, just to prove she could.
This was not enough, it never will be. I’m afraid I didn’t make it round the fair without signing up to one or two illicit activities. I maintain they are part of my recovery: that I earned the right to dance again, that running was to be my reward for working so hard at my weight increase.
I’ll leave the exercise baggage here. It’s rather heavy and shameful, and I don’t want it to drag this post down.
There are other heavy weights I must warn you of.
For the first few days in the flat, I refused to believe I had been lucky enough to find one free from triggers. There was a moment, however brief, that I let Ellie let Anxiety’s hand go. It felt safe here. Surely, there would be no other attacks.
But of course, fate stalked my thoughts straight into realisation. A noisy neighbour suddenly jarred themselves under my skin and under my flat; and now Anxiety is back. Even as I write, the noises rumble underfoot. And I’m frightened. I’m on edge again, and I know how hard it is to keep Ellie from falling off.
By the end of my first week, I was exhausted. My body, weak and attention-seeking as it is, sought to make a point of this.
My first ever nose bleed erupted over breakfast.
The symphony of exhausting orchestrated by creaking joints and low, unsolicited groans. My eyelids feel thick and rubbery, all my skin dried up and jumping ship.
I’m being weighed tomorrow, but I know anorexia has already dictated the outcome. I’m not ready to face all the baggage bought along by over exercising.
Fresher’s week is out of the way, and I’ve just about finished unpacking. I’ve distributed Ellie about the flat, and am letting her play there awhile. The challenge at the moment is keeping anxiety at bay long enough for Ellie to savour this fresh start.
A new beginning is on the move.
Despite all this careful unpacking of my self, I’m still somehow all over the place.
I couldn’t help bursting into the room; I was late to my first lecture, and that does somewhat bring my emotion too close to the surface. The bright lights glared as I began the excruciating walk of shame around the lecture theatre. There must be somewhere for my to be.
Then my yoga classes, now twice put out of joint by a shunted routine. This morning I grabbed my mat and legged it down the hill.
How had a I let myself go so far as to think too far
and get lost?
I’m over there. Suddenly, here came around rather fast.
Ellie, we’re on the move.
Could we be on the up?
Time is brewing up something spectacular.
At least, that’s how university should taste in the end. When the admin has fermented and the reactions started, and when the inevitable finally hardens into a solid reality. Only then will I taste it. The recipe I’ve been working on for over two years: a uni, a flat, a fantasy, a future.
If Ellie has this right, it will be delicious.
Everything is simmering along nicely. I’ve found a flat not far from campus; sorted transport cards and even ordered my course books. I’ve bought a cute academic diary that I’ve already filled with lists:
I threw in a dinner party for good measure: just a pinch of fun to season this interim period. As if I didn’t have enough to do without moulding falafel into identical little balls, blitzing hummus into cream and smashing avocados as if they were anorexia herself. This set of jobs, though, was a pleasure to work through. I’m Anonymous to many of my friends, so it really was wonderful to spend some time with them.
I haven’t laughed that hard in years.
A university branded pen quivers in my hand as I write. It’s threatening to kick off, to scrawl and spiral off on a tangent somewhere. To circle round and round the jobs that cannot be done yet, to doodle in the margins of why I’m really going. To outline my weight graph, or perhaps just scribble all over it.
At home, flyers clog up the postbox and touts have wormed their way into my inbox. “The Greatest Fresher’s Week of my life” blares ahead, just down the path I’ll be careful to avoid. I’d rather keep a low profile, to be Anonymous in a crowd of hurling 18-year olds.
My phone has added another dimension to the build up.
Oh, the symphony of desperation: the cry of estate agents to please, do come and view this apartment. A din of nervous freshers, and the sinister buzz every time something changes on student finance.
I’m buried in paperwork securing one flat, but still the estate agents call. Spam is the mating ritual of a struggling agent failing to match person to property. I’ve been crowded in urgency: but perhaps that’s why I’m flourishing. This: the nourishment of purpose, however many routes it ventures down.
But the volume alone is anxiety inducing.
Everything’s boiled over a couple of times. The panic suddenly rises and teeters over the brim, and then the tears stream down. Bubbling clots leak into the present and burn gaping black holes into the future. I freeze, and the whole idea of independence becomes an unmoving picture, stuck in wishful thinking.
The anxiety fizzles out violently, sparks flying in my eyes and head blotting over all black and blue. The stakes are so high, I just don’t know where to begin in containing it when a series of harmful reactions are triggered. The worry just gets everywhere, all my prospects soaked in doom.
Anonymous admitted that taking on a part time job at Waitrose was a mistake only hours into her first shift.
Whilst Ellie struggled to weigh up how heavy the hours would sit against her work, Anonymous was fighting with the chair. The checkout exhausted my cheek-muscles and frazzled my brain, but the seat invalidated any sense of tiredness in Anorexia’s eyes. That anxiety triggered an episode of gut-wrenching panic, and an entire day was lost in regret.
I question whether I can afford to sacrifice the time or head-space to such an anxiety. It may just be one thing too many. When everything has started, I couldn’t risk my anxiety brimming over and burning out all over everything else.
Aside from fixing some accommodation, I’ve also examined the work I’ll have on my course.
An obese reading list dragged my attention down to the base layer of fear upon which Anonymous prowls. The amount of work I’m going to have will render her allotted ‘sitting’ time useless. The call for hours spent stuck at a desk, with legs motionless and growing fat on time. If only it were as easy as making Ellie swallow a few pages of a book, and the letting her do the rest.
If only her interest were enough to shut Anonymous out whilst she works. It may not manage that, but it certainly gives her the will to try. I intend to take the war of words off the page, and stuff it into the very back of my mind.
I’ve also attended part of a “mature learner”’s Welcome Day – because that is what I am now. Stunted by anorexia so early in my academic career, I’ve just about to managed to catch up with the students several years younger than myself. When I received an invitation to join the Mature Learner’s society, I let out a breath I hadn’t realised I’d been holding. That there will be a community for me, Anonymous old me, is a comfort.
The Welcome Day itself was a challenge that dented Ellie’s confidence but bulked out her determination to try harder next time. I persuaded Anonymous to stay for one lecture and some mingling, but confess that she won me over after that, and slowly extracted me from being made to sit any longer.
It wasn’t just the sitting that was difficult, it was the faces. A room full of faces twisted into unnatural expressions of interest. Smiles plastered over snarls and nerves. Then the blank ones, the warm ones, the ones that secreted a certain air of respect. An unreadable score to which I had no idea to react. Neither Ellie nor Anonymous seemed appropriate, and yet I had to carry them in on my back. It occurred to me then how damaged my social skills have been by anorexia, and how I still have to fight to salvage what is left. There is work to be done.
I’m going to try and leave Anonymous behind when I go to uni. I have no wish to take her into my lectures or seminars; into the cafe, the fresher’s fair and certainly not anywhere where she’ll introduce herself ahead of me.
But how could I not take her there? How, when she shields her hands around my mouth, eats words off my tongue and steals this student sinto a small, estranged self? How will I explain my behaviour, if not confessing to never having owned it in the first place?
Leaving lectures and jiggling under the desk. Eating at 1 but not at 1:04. The anger, the tears, the exhaustion. As these are not mine, why should I take the credit for all the Anonymous happenings? Shape the semester like a crop circle. A warning: will you make it through the year. This is already an unrealistic endeavour. I’ve had meetings with the finance and administration team about how they can help an anorexic through her studies. The most helpful thing, really, would be to let her stew awhile, and see how she turns out.
I’ve let it all stew.
Occasionally prodding it, checking my weight (which is creeping up, I might add), and feeling around for some sense of where Ellie is in all this.
As I’m swinging from one thought to the next; through the excitement, dread and doom, I drop things. I drop sight of why and the smell of what. The when and where scream angrily as they drown under uncertainty. Time slops. I’m washed into a crisis, and then have to face it. I have to face myself, and remind me why I’m doing this.
Because it is spectacular. Whatever happens, the future promises to be quite a spectacle.