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.