Week 5: Tickety-Boo

I’ve started climbing into myself to hide from triggers.
A noise will flash or the crowd will flare, and so I’ll leave my twitching limbs and retreat into the soft spot behind my eyes. The space between my ears, the attic above my nose. The place bad things go.
One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight. Nine.
If I reach Ten and it is still there, I’ll do it again.
One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight. Nine.
Ten again. Try again.
The slow, slurry numbers spoken soundly above the clamour. Time bought to heel for ten seconds. It is not a prevention method, it is merely distraction.
I count until the numbers run out. Until the sound swallows and I take a deep breath before sinking into anxiety. Or, I count until it all ends. Until the alarm is turned off, the child quietens, the gang pass by.

Day 29 snuck up on me.
I glanced at the rota and thought nothing of it: 15:00-01:00, nothing abnormal (insert ironic laughter here). The day was just over the brow of the night before when I saw it: I saw what I’d actually be doing. It is a summer school tradition to hold the shameless event that is a debate. A few hours for the Colleges to let off some steam and rip up some nerves. I was expected to supervise: so I was also expected to sit.
Anonymous did the maths. It would be approx. 1hr 15mins seated. This, Ellie reasoned, is much less than the average day at clinics back home. So why do I feel the need to still eat less? Even when it transpired that I’d be lingering on my feet anyway? My snack lots 200kcal and my motivation a substantial amount of energy. Supper shrank as I prepared it, the seated prospect blocking me from fully appreciating the long shift I had ahead of me. At 21:00, when all I had had been eaten, when I was roaming the quad gathering stray students, I regretted it. I chose regret of not eating over the guilt of doing so.
Only the short spat of rain vomiting from the sky gave me respite from the blame game rocking back and forth in my head. When the cloud cleared, it only made the heat hang it’s head in shame. Humidity bowed low, just scrapping my chin.

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Today’s shift was totally worth it to have supper with a thunderstorm.

I have been fumbling with the day, unpicking it hour by hour, working towards tomorrow. My thoughts inclined to the downward slope. Yes, I was looking forward to my day off. I was looking forward to a normal day when I could eat normal food. I was looking forward to having time to gather these loose thoughts together, and try to wrap up the leftover ones from last week. I still haven’t published last week’s blog update, and I’m trying to remind myself that that is ok. It is my blog, and I write for me. So if ‘Me’ is having none of it right now, that has to be ok. Even if it means my name shrinks and becomes Anonymous.
Today actually went quite quickly. All this journalling is good like that: it helps me monitor time to ensure it passes by in an orderly and constructive manner. If only it could slow the pace down a bit. This short epoch of my recovering is starting to draw to a close. Independent living will be extinct within weeks. I just don’t feel ready for that. But the days just keep coming, they just keep hunting my time down.

Day 30 rose and fell in a sigh.

Not good. Day 31, no. Not good.
I hit my head. I screamed into the sink. I hurled my arms about and threw pillows. Dull thuds, muffled glugs. Induced dizziness to shake it out, tremble it out. Nothing made the noise stop. Nothing made it all end.
In the nose, out the mouth. Time oozing through a thin capillary of pain, squeezing, squeezing, squeeze me tight.
It hurts when you look forward to a day, welcome it even, and then it strikes you down. To fill it with plans and feelings, only for it to sink and drag one down with it. I had been so excited to potter, to see, to think. And then I woke up, and the noise was there. A tinny progression, the whining wheeze of age 0-3 weaponry. The wrath of Peppa Pig.
My morning fell into crazed disarray thanks to a toddler, and a little rain. The accommodation block next door house many an interesting character, but none more so than the small army of children that march back and forth over the lawn. One such child, and it’s ignorance of Fisher and Price’s cheapskate designs, was where this anxious morning started. How to describe the dying cries of a drowned music box? How to capture the high-pitched squeals it made as the batteries refused to die, for a little over 18 hours? How to imagine what misfortune came upon the battered toy when it was left on, and out in the torrential rain? It fought hard. Only my anxious appeal to the nice man in no.7 ended the torment. Together, we hopped over the low fence and confronted the toy. Blood-curdling squeals of the pink piggy echoed throughout Cambridge as we took a screwdriver to the back and gouged out the batteries. It stopped. All but the breeze rustling in the trees was still.

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Offender A

No thanks to you, Peppa. The noise, and the anxiety of not knowing if or if ever it would cease, almost destroyed me. I got home, and virtually collapsed. My blood rushed and roared in harmony with the march of the hours around the clock face.
All this pain, all this worry. What a waste of a day.

Day 32 is my lookout post. I caught a glimpse of the next two weeks, and they were small. They’d slip through my fingers like sand. Chips in time, fragments, grains of a memory. It had felt like such a long time, a big period: but now I feel as if I’m watching the dune collapse.
I’m at work, and bored. It’s arrival’s day (the final one thank heavens!) and have had scant to do save for showing one student to their room. It’s just too early for anything else to be happening. So we are being paid to wait. We are waiting for time to just go already.
As such, I’ve had ample opportunity to pull apart today’s edition of Anxiety. May I please, for a moment, just talk myself through some of my surface worries?
My food. Anonymous hates the lack-of-structure to days like today almost as much as I do. I’ve had to eat at really dodgy times (who eats a snack 45mins before a meal?!) and it has really unsettled me. I’ve let Anonymous convince me the eating too much all at once has caught my body unawares, and that a calorific ambush is taking place. Plus I’m being weighed tomorrow and definitely haven’t drunk enough water, so won’t be able to flush any food out as poo. Don’t get me started on what lack of sleep will be doing. When every other cell in my body is delirious with exhaustion, what trickery will be played on my digestive system?
Am really tired and still have the rest of this 15 hour shift left to go. Oh, and I’ll have to cycle home. In the middle of the night. And its raining. And am terrified for getting ill; more terrified of getting ill and being forced to lounge about in bed whilst the flu works so hard at making life a misery.
I still haven’t had time to write up last week’s blog. I’ll have to bang it out tomorrow night, I just wish I had more time this week. The only deadline I’ve missed is my own, but that’s why it feels so important. In essence, I’ve failed.
As I mentioned earlier, tiredness is doing things to me. Strange decisions are to be expected, but things may have gotten a bit out of hand last night. To celebrate my first payslip, I blew it on some more tickets to a Shakespeare play, and also to a folk music concert. The venue is far too close to my flat for me to not be able to hear it, and I know the noise will make me anxious if I’m trapped in the flat in my supper routine. So if you can’t beat them, join them. This may be a mistake for many a mental reason; not least because now I’ve given Anxiety something financial to chew over too.
What if I’ve gained weight tomorrow? How will I stop when I get home? When my bicycle is taken away, when I’m confined to a car, when my meals are easier to manage? These are not the questions I should be asking, and I know it. What the real question is, is why would it be a bad thing. It means I’m trying to recover, after all.
I’ve written all that down now. It’s on the paper, so it doesn’t feel so crowded up here, in my head. So now, I would like to say how much I am looking forward to my day off tomorrow. I will have a shower in the morning, and eat a nice breakfast. I’ll take a little potter round the city after my weigh in, perhaps wander into St John’s College. I haven’t been there yet! Oh, and make a good snack. Also write my blog, go to the market for some peaches and generally soak up this inspiring city.
Oh, I also just got home and completely freaked out. At 1:34am, tired and a little sweaty, I made towards the kitchen to begin unpacking my bags. The door swung open, and there it was. A plastic bag, knotted at the top, just sitting in the middle of the floor. I hadn’t been home all day, and so there was only one explanation. Someone was in the flat.
With the calm and sleepy help Mum and Dad gave me over the phone (who needs sleep?) I searched the whole place. The guilt that reined when I spied the open window, felt the breeze, and discovered the suspicious substance was in fact only a handful of bayleaves, was almost unbearable.
Mum, Dad – sorry.

Day 33 was sucked away by my weigh in. Down 0.2kg.
I normally use the word “overwhelmed” on weigh-in days. Most of the time that’s fairly accurate, or is at least crushing enough to warrant such a heavy hyperbole. It doesn’t quite cover it today though. I’ve not been swallowed, I’ve just been left. The ground pulls away from underneath my feet, and confusion surges with tidal yearning. It happens suddenly. Everything bursts out, then in a flash it is all over. Now, there’s this hollow shell, and that sinking feeling. A derelict battlefield in a turf war.
These times are a relief. All my worries taken out of my hands and left out in the cold, but I am made to look at them. I’ve so much to do, to worry about.
But today I can’t. Today, I have left myself; because I am totally useless.
Today has been the first day I’ve egged time on. C’mon, get it over with. I just want my Mum. My Dad, a hug. I want to go home to my family. That’s where I’d find myself again.
Tidal feeling surge all the time in recovery, but they always flood new challenges in a harsher light. Today, I made some decisions. One of which was that I will once again not be going on holiday with my family this year. I won’t manage it. I’m not well enough to fight that battle yet.
And that should make me sad, but t has pacified Anonymous. So now, I just feel this nothing. This relief, this shame. This hollowness I’ll sink into and watch it all pass with the rush of time.
I had to fill it with something: so I finally published last week’s blog. If only I could go to bed with that lovely warm feeling of fulfilment; but alas, I cannot. The writing was terrible and done by the hand of exhaustion. There is guilt between the lines too, because I really should have spent this evening planning for my yoga class tomorrow. Instead, I’ve wasted time on myself.

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It’s ok though!

Day 34 restored itself after some sleep. Yesterday, Tomorrow was to be a calamity. Now that it has fledged into Today, I’ve found that I’ve actually managed it quite well.
I spent a happy hour on my yoga mat this morning, letting time go with the flow as I pieced together a few routines to take my class through this afternoon. (That’s right: me, the anusara addict, has now been asked to lead a yoga class tonight. I’m armed with incense and essential oil!) I hope students sign up for it, I’ve worked quite hard on it.
Perhaps the prospect of mat time is why I rose from my slumber feeling so peaceful. Even the unfortunate timing of the rubbish lorry didn’t result in the usual angry outburst. It was heartbreaking for my breakfast to be ruined by the loud clatters and calls of the bin men, but I just held it in. That’s never happened before. I stood up, and left my porridge steaming. The few minutes it took for them to empty the bins and leave, taking their loud voices and rattling van with them, were agonising. And yet, I survived them. I returned to the table, and calmly carried on spooning cold oats into my mouth. I have never been more grateful to Anxiety that it chose to let that one ride.
Mat, playlist, speakers, candles. Check, check, check. It’s snack time on a stressful day, but today I can enjoy it. How lovely. Well, almost enjoy it. Anonymous must always find something to hold against me, and today she has chosen the cafe I’ve chosen to sit in for my snack. Only because I came here twice last week: it is becoming a bit of a regular really, and anorexia hates that. It is not what should be done when one is somewhere new. There are a host of cafes I should be trying: cute independents, indie artisans and the bustling ones just off Market Square. The thing is, I like it here. It is cool and quiet, and has large sweeping windows that overlook the street two stories down. Books muffle the noise, and so the road is muted into a silent movie. There are too many stairs to bring up prams; indeed the majority of the customers are bent over large volumes, noses inches from the page. But indulging in this too often feels like a betrayal to my recovery. It does not prove I can go anywhere and order coffee, nor train me to do so. But why, Ellie, is that such a bad thing?
Surely enjoyment is part and parcel of recovery?

Day 35 kept jumping into the future. It flashed forward a few weeks, leaping headfirst into the time I’d have to leave Camrbidge, and go back to normal. Back with the same food, but without the exercise. Back to the clinic: and back to weight gain.
I’m talking to my nurse on the phone in a few days, and will make a contingency plan. I know the Anxiety that awaits me when I return home, and I don’t want to bring it into the house. Mum and Dad have also been allowed a break from this whole horrid anorexic thing inside me, and I don’t want to expose them to it anymore. I can’t help feel that the time I’ve had here has helped it. The obsessions and compulsions feel stronger; and the fight harder. Everything is getting noisy in here, and I’m frightened.
I’ve also resolved to make the most of the good snacks here. Anonymous will never let me have such yummy things without earning them first by bike. At least for now, I can savour the time that I can tuck into a thick dollop of peanut butter.

This week, I’ve watched time hurry by. Sometimes in a bid to reach something good, some end goal; and then as if were running from something frightful.
Which it will be, Time will tell. Until then, and only until then, I would like to say how very lovely and privileged I feel to be here. I feel truly lucky to have Now, and to know of all the Thens.

Week 4: *gasp*

This post arrives huffing and puffing.
It straggles behind the days that have passed since my deadline. I set it myself: this is my own downfall. Late.
I am so sorry this post is late.

I journal every day.
It is a small, achievable goal; one that eases the passing of time. Writing keeps me safe.
Blogging, however, is vulnerable to Anonymous. Deadlines are set to be constrictive, and they always fray a little, forking in different directions. They create a three line whip. My blog is helpful, but this fickle friend sometimes seems like a plot to push Ellie. To succeed, to earn something, prove something.
So here it is: the tarnished edition.

The late one.
Every word gasped in embarrassment for my tardiness in writing this up. Excuses may heave between the lines: I’ve had so many late shifts; my body aches by the time I’m allowed to write; the gaps Ellie squeezes her writing into during the day are getting thinner and thinner.

Days 22-28 have melted together.
Time bared down, the moments swam. Days are slipping between my sweaty palms.
The pages of my notebook have stuck together, and the events that plotted my week have sunk into illegible diary entries. I cannot tell what lead to what, not what lead me to stand on the scales at my weigh in and for it to read 49.8kg. Exactly the same as last time: the fine balance holding my recovery together. Not up, not down, but afloat.

And now, to write. Deciphering where I lost time is like trying to cut water. The days are submerged under work, sweat, and suncream. How can I divide time into paragraphs? How to separate this tender week into days, as if they are somehow apart from one another? What has time to do with wringing out opportunity, and squeezing out these thick, gooey memories?

So I shan’t try. I shall just marvel at this sweltering lump of good and bad, up and down. I shall look upon the week and admire how time changes when it is held up in euphoria, or dropped into the depths of anxiety.

Some things cling to the memory of this week like beads of sweat.
The ones that glitter are tainted golden. Formed as time oozed by pleasantly like syrupy drops of honey.
My body wept in an emotional reunion with the heat. After two years trapped in an anorexic winter, the shock of feeling sweat sweep down my brow was crushing. I am proud to say I moped it up with pride. I’ve worked so hard for the privilege to sweat again.
The sun smiled as Ellie took my hand and launched us into the day. When the endorphins were rushing faster than my thoughts, I found myself sucking every last drop out of the time I had this week. I tried new recipes and plucked up the courage to take on the food challenges I knew I’d win.
Day 24 was positive because I ate an unplanned banana when it transpired I’d be running sportsday. I needed the fuel, recognised this was so, and acted on it.
Day 25 was positive because I began dreaming again. Visions of a good job and a good life. It was only later I realised I was dreaming of recovery again.
There was more – a Shakespeare play, a yummy supper, seeing a friend. Every day, I’ve tasted the time and tried to savour it. Those that are left are rationed, and Ellie wants to enjoy them.

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A golden moment: Midsummer Night’s Dreaming.

Other moments have made this week humid with worry. A series of consecutive late shifts rendered my body unable to hold itself up. I leaned against the wall, still hot from the heat of the day, and sapped energy from the bricks. On those days, I had to arrange my limbs carefully before my plate of food, and try not to give away to anyone how insufficient I knew those meals to be. Exhaustion is ravenous. I am so tired I find myself wanting to eat all the time, but I’m too scared to just in case my weight jumps again.
The days I’ve had to lock the windows just to keep the noise out.
Some days at work concede to the heat, and melt into listlessness. It is the combination of boredom and hunger that makes the bad moments so sticky. Even at home, when there is nothing else waiting for me but my book and bed, I can’t shake myself out of that hollow place. And still, the heat held me together, in place.
Other things hollowed me out that week. My newsfeeds were drowning under graduation gowns and champagne glasses. Every single on of my friends and several of my foes have now graduated. I’d then step out into the street in a city teeming with intelligence. Success pressed against me everywhere, and crowded me in my own inadequacy. I had to enforce social media quarantines to prevent the spread of shame from one day to the next.

Anxiety did not confine itself to the limits of a single week. No, as I approached the halfway point of my stay in Cambridge, the thoughts rounded on what will happen afterwards. They chastised me for letting my exercise get so out of hand, and began describing in detail how hard I’m going to have to work at reducing it when I get home. How distressing it will be. My thoughts loath the very idea of returning to a routine I now know to be futile: it will never be as good as it is here. Time’s tide turned at the halfway point, and began to suck me out to distress. How will I cope when everything returns to normal?

All the while, in every entry, I’ve just been reminding myself that I’m ok. That it is all going to be alright. I’ve proved I can survive time through thick and thin, and I’m just going to have to keep doing it. One day I’ll believe I can.
As time passed that week: thick, gooey and confusing, I let it lather itself over every moment. Sticky days dripping by, minutes clumped together like dollops of honey.
A warm, sweet taste to every bite at the day.

And tomorrow is Tuesday, and I have to start writing up the week we’ve just endured. Or else it shall arrive late, and the meaning I’m so lucky to have found in it will be lost.

Anor-log: Day 30

I chose Cambridge based on a vision.

A job offer was to be a mere threshold from which I could step out of myself, and into this new person. For a few weeks, it would all be new. A confident skin glowing with enthusiasm, one so honest and true it could mask anorexia for a few weeks.
A summer job would take me away. A breakout so violent it would shake Ellie awake for good, and make her turn time forward in her direction. The weeks away would blemish days with new things. Like acne, I’d stay awake to watch nights rupture into mornings. I’d do fun things and new things, cool things and social stuff. Escaping anorexia would redefine “things”.
It was a beautiful sight to behold.
Nights glittered with the dew of clubhouse sweat, mornings studded by efficiency and days brimming with life, friends, fun – things. Socials would wade into weekends and let the energy ripple right into Monday morning. Perhaps a love interest would bob along, perhaps a spark would jump from my mouth to a career path’s ear. Who knew? Who knew what “things” I’d encounter and claim as my own? Who knew what new “things” about myself I’d have to keep forever.
Who knew that what I had seen – what that vision had been, all those months ago – was a dream of recovery. I was dreaming of living in a recovered future.

Of course, these things are but a dream. A little pocket of calm amongst an anorexic nightmare. Still, Anonymous couldn’t quite deny Ellie the right to dream. It’s her favourite pastime.
Even in the days leading up to leaving, I hadn’t woken up. I was still indulging so much on a fantasy that my bags were bloated with glittery tops and high heels. My tennis racket waited in my suitcase for the day it would be used on a hot summer’s day. There was room in that bag to take the memory of a tennis partner home in, and the energy I’d surely have to do so. Even as I distributed Anonymous all over the flat, and let her loose to scope out where her routine would lie, I still didn’t wake up.
Only when the first staff social stomped nearby, did Ellie stir.
The details caused a disturbance in the air: punting in the afternoon followed by Pimms and strawberries on the lawn. Supper somewhere with a youthful (ie, greasy) name and then on to a pub until alcohol outstripped blood supply. My comfort zone stops long before this line of weakness. At the very invitation to such an exciting event, Ellie started to pick up and give out worrying vibes. Sticky carpets paved the way through crowds of people and clouds of calories looming in the smoky nightlife air. A whole chunk of Anonymous’ time would be handed over to another person and spread thickly, horizontal, on a punt. There, we’d be trapped. Incarcerated and subjected to an anxious few hours stuck seated, with nowhere to run but the shallow depths of the river.
Ellie still dreamt, she could still hear the utopian calls beckoning her to err on that side of the decision. The night advertised recovery in it’s fullest form. There were so many promises of interaction it would no doubt keep, in return for an Anonymous concession. Which she simply cannot give.
I couldn’t do it. Ellie woke up, and was frightened.

The staff social calendar haunts me. The happiest few weeks for a while have been stalked by the expectation that looms above me. It’s a shadow cast over the contentment I hold with solitude. I’m careful to skirt around it, and not tread on it’s toes with my big anorexic feet.
There have been meals, picnics, pub trips, punts. The events orbit food, and draw boozy blots over the summer. Things sit too close to food, and for too long in the company of inactivity. These things are too far out of my reach.

Ellie’s stomach twists with longing every time she says no. We walk together in the opposite direction, and let Anonymous be. She gets very worried if we wake her, better to let the beast lie. I always knew I’d have to choose my battles here, that I wouldn’t be able to do everything, not yet. There just hadn’t been any warning of this fact in my dream.
I’ve been starved of social interaction with anyone my own age for quite some time. Living in a quiet rural village and working with 4 year olds has it’s golden moments, but I am often foraging for them alone. When every other 22 year is out there doing things and getting things, there aren’t many people left with whom I can share what I find. So coming here has already given me ample amounts of exposure to people like me. And I’m relieved to say I really like it. I do like most people.
I’ve been so hungry for company. Only now I’ve tasted it do I realise how much so. Yet it has come, and much of the time I still don’t know quite what to do with it. How to digest something so rich, so nourishing? And how to be, how to hold myself in my generation. To recognise the bones that prop us up out of demography: that rapper, that film, that classic hit. What pray, does “reem” mean?
Aside from the obvious problems a recovering anorexic might have with socialising with people at events, there are nice gaping holes in my memory of actual human interaction. It’s not bad, but enough to make me wary.

And now, I’m hungry.
On the other side of town, all my colleagues are tucking into brunch. A staff trip to celebrate a great session and greater team. I shall allow you a little more than the excuse I scraped together for them as to why I wouldn’t be there. But please don’t expect the full picture: there are too many things in the nightmare for me to conjure into words.
Oh the hazards. Brunch trips over two meals and lands in a calorific puddle of sweaty uncertainty. The trickery that would do to my metabolism rivals the thought of what I’d be exposed to. Had I simply gone and sipped black coffee, I’d still have been there. I’d have been there in the presence of lumbering servers serving slowly. Wafts of bacon or eggs or caramelised fruit would gather in my throat and drip calories into my system. The endless chatter, however pleasant, would eat into my seat. The heavy weight of time would sit next to me and glare as an hour, possibly two, passed by with me being able to stand, or move, or exercise. There are some times in the day when this is ok. But not in the clear run of hours between breakfast and lunch. Not landed lazily between two well established mealtimes, not on top of so many other things. Not at brunch.

I won’t put myself through it. It would hurt too much. And that, I recognise, is selfish.
I should have gone, shown my face. I should have chosen other people’s desire to see me over my own to stay away. For I am Anonymous, and it makes sense to put everyone else first. Expectation is a crafty thing. It has so many mirrors.

Ellie is recovering her summer dream so convincingly one would have thought this is the best it could get. Even with Anonymous putting things all over it, my time here looks to be every bit as good as that vision.
And really, that is more than Reality had expected.

Week 3: Forced Fun

Day 15: Friend!

Once again, I have neglected to write about today, because I’ve been too busy making a meal of last week on my blog. It is now published, and so I can draw a line under what was a very anxious week. Lines can always be blurred, but the only thing I want to take with me into the next is my desire to do better. This week, I want to do well.
I’m sure I’ve had plenty of positive and constructive thoughts on the day, but alas: writing of the last tore me from the present, and I haven’t really been in the moment at all. I have been chewing it all over, rewriting my misery again and again. And now what of today? Where am I, here and now?
So here I shall commence: in the here and now, at my desk and scribbling fast so I can get to bed.

When I got myself to here today, it actually turned out to be really nice. Nice is not a word I use liberally, but it’s quaint and inoffensive qualities render it perfect for this description.
Anonymous dreads her days off. The vast hours of time moving at a glacial pace through the day serve as a tribute to all I have lost by wishing it away. Boredom lurks too close by, and preys on me as I drift.
Today was a day off: ie, a day in my control. This is how I want to think of it, for it is a day that belongs entirely to me. Aren’t you lucky, Ellie?
Ellie decided to do something brave with her precious morning. She took a gamble with how much exercise there’d be in it for her, and agreed to meet a friend from work for coffee. I’ve been trying to keep the extent of Anonymous’ power over me away from her, so glued my tongue into my cheek when she told me she knew of the “perfect” coffeehouse. Two unknowns found in the plan.
I’m so glad I went. Cancellation was a tempting escape route away from the possibility for sitting for longer than usual, dodgy waiters who lie about the fat content of their milk. “Of course this is skinny milk,” they say. I have to drip drops off my spoon, holding it up against the light. Only skinny milk is watery enough to see through. The latte itself came out bigger than I expected. Prickling panic subsided after Ellie reminded me that we’d normally be having a snack too, not just a latte. So it was alright: not ideal, for Anonymous had a slim plan, but alright.
I went because Ellie enjoys spending time with people. She likes feeling together, especially when she’s able to be with herself too.
The activity anxiety stung less as soon as we stood up to go for a walk down the river. The air was cooler today, and I know my body had to use some extra calories to wrap my jacket around my shoulders tightly. I knew the walk was coming, and I wasn’t having to hold off too long because she drank her coffee at about the same pace as me. And so it came to be that Ellie could enjoy the time, the place, the company. We had a very gentle chat on the nourishing pics of literature, family, jobs and gossip. I think I feel better for just having some normal human contact with someone. Working relationships are propped up and unnatural.
Don’t get me wrong: I do like being alone. Most of the time actually, it suits Ellie and Anonymous quite well. One can think, and one can write. Sometimes though, three is a crowd. It gets stuffy stuck in this head.

Mum and Dad left for their holiday today. Not that it makes much difference to me literally: they’re at home and I’m up here. But the safety net of their phone calls has been moved quite far out of reach, out of range and signal. Which is fine. It may do me good to try fighting Anonymous without running crying to someone afterwards. It will do them good too.
I just hope they didn’t leave worrying about me. I’m so selfish: I ended up calling them again last night out of desperation. They didn’t need to hear their daughter being eaten alive by her illness, it is cruel. I just couldn’t keep her in.

The sun came out, and time took it’s course on the day. The afternoon seems to have been trodden into the ground by distraction. I’ve kept busy by prepping tomorrow’s food, finally found a Waitrose, (don’t laugh, where my food comes from it very important to me. I’m anorexic, not just a Surrey girl), and writing this feeling quite pleased I published my blog earlier.

Achieving sends me on a high, and somehow it is just easier to believe that it is all going to be ok. Even if the achievement is something as small as willing something good to happen, amongst all the bad.
Out of a hard week last week, I was able to produce a blog post. Something to write about.
This week, I’d like to cope. That would be a novel idea: plenty to get my teeth into there.

Day 16: Friday 13th, of course.

I just screamed in public.
I will never be allowed back into Clare’s Scholars gardens again, not if any of the tourists reported the strange sight that was myself. Cross-legged and cowering beneath the dahlias, glaring at the glum gardener as he continued to mow the lawn over the spot I had been sitting near not a few moments ago, but had to absent on grounds of rising noise anxiety.
I had taken my snack to the nice corner, the one far away from other people, and so far away from triggers. Just as I spilt my tea over breakfast; as the recycling man clattered as I was taking my first mouthful of porridge; as the traffic lights turned red – it was never to be smooth. I ran from the swarming tourists on the street, and hid in the garden.
Then they all found me. The gardeners emerged from the hedges clutching machines and clippers. Punts drifted to this side of the river, screeching children and screaming babies making their air sodden with alarm. Greasy teenagers lumbered along to the beat of their music that they had to be playing out of speakers: because clearly the revered Cambridge ambience and birdsong wasn’t upbeat enough for them. Noise rose in the air and collected together with the swarm of other triggers following me: exhaustion, fear to eat but fear of not eating, loneliness, and dread of the long shift ahead of me later on.
I so wanted my snack. To curl my tongue around it and savour this: my prize for getting to 11:30. I was so hungry. There was so much noise in my head, and suddenly too much outside it.
And so yes, I screamed.

My anxiety jumped when I arrived in town. I locked my bike up after a bemusing journey in (more on that to follow), and then I was swept up in the clamour and sweat of thousands of people teeming down King’s parade.
Up to the click of my lock, I was doing ok. The morning, in normal circumstances, would have been written off as “pointless”. Turning up to a yoga class in a strange city, anticipating an hour or so of the much missed therapy it gives me at home, had opened the day up to chance. I knew there was a chance the class wouldn’t be as good as my one back at home, I was prepared for that.
What I was not prepared for was to rock up to the studio and discover it was nestled behind a pungent vegan restaurant. Even at 9 in the morning, the stench of seared aubergine soaked the air in oily odours. The floor in reception was thudding from the heavy metal music playing in the kitchen next door. In the yoga studio: a place of peace and contemplation, was tarnished by the screaming vocals tortured by squealing guitar chords. Then the teacher turned up – let me not even start on that. To push up into downwards dog and call it anusara, nose blocked and ears ringing, is something contradictory to the famed intelligence of this city.
I left after nine minutes, my head feeling noisier and shakier than I had when I walked in. Not quite the point, some would agree. No matter. I have my bicycle, so I’m not too worried about missing out on the muscle tone leant by my weekly yoga at home. It just would have been nice to do something familiar, something comforting.
Despite the disappointment, I was a little amused. What would have been a waste of time at home I can simply write off as “futile”. In which case, I have achieved what every explorer aims to probe: pointlessness. For only when we discover something is completely useless do we call it useless, and make it a boundary. This is how we build up our knowledge of the place we are in. I will not attempt to go to yoga here again.

Then I got to town, and to all the people. And now here I am, screaming.

Let me move now along to here: my evening shift.
I already hate this.
Tonight we are throwing the student’s graduation party, and we’ve already had dramas erupt like champagne corks. My worries are threatening to do the same, but with arguably less energy. I don’t have enough to spare. I certainly don’t have enough to get me through the next few days: ten hour shifts back-to-back, with two night shifts thrown in for good measure.
I’m frightened my body will fail.
I’m frightened my mind will burn out.
I’m frightened the cold night air will help me catch a cold.
I’m frightened I’m not going to have enough to time to prepare all my food.
I’m frightened because I don’t want to eat this.
I’m frightened because I have to.
How else will I achieve the week?

Day 17: Shake and rattle

Ok I’m struggling.
Someone is in the flat next door playing jazz. Let me clarify: they are playing smooth jazz from good quality speakers, and have been doing so all evening. There was an interval that coincided (miraculously) with my supper. I suspect the hot date taking place over there most likely gave their ears a break and let their mouths do some work. I’m talking about eating and talking, by the way. Anyway, it has started again. It isn’t hurting me, but it is making me anxious. Mainly because I’m convinced the sound has stressed me out too much, and now I won’t sleep.

I have a 12 our shift tomorrow and two night shifts in the days following that. Does anyone else sense I’m heading for a burnout?

Exhaustion makes me eyes lose focus sometimes. In order to not lose focus on what is on my plate, perhaps it would be useful for me to address my food and exercise in this diary. I can’t hide from it, especially not with another weigh in coming up.
Ok. So.
Today I have been restricting, and have been duly punished for it. I’ve been feeling quite ill all day. Anonymous made me stand all the time. A day catching up with work admin was not going to serve as an excuse to sit at a desk. Instead, I volunteered to run errands and move bags. I fetched students and vigorously put paper through the shredder, flying arms and all. I sat down for 20 mins at lunch, and 10 because I needed some coffee. Why does that still feel like too much?

Tomorrow is the first of three difficult days.
Having indulged my feelings in this notebook, I think I know what I need to do to manage the coming shifts. Survivor’s instinct dictates that I draw on what I know works. So maybe what I should do is force the days to be good ones.
Against their will and the will of fate too, perhaps. But this is a more positive angle than the ones I’ve had before.

I guess for today, I can at least say that I’ve achieved an angle.

Day 18: Difficult Day 1

I’m already not enjoying this.

As I started work at 11 today, I thought it would be a good idea for me to get a coffee and have my snack beforehand. I approached the cafe stemming the cold sweat that has been breaking out since last night. 30 degree heat appears to be doing nothing for my immune system, and I think I’ve come down with a cold. My feet have been dragging somewhat because my thighs are a bit stiff. They still aren’t used to cycling, nor to disrupted sleep patterns. I have really been quite looking forward to this coffee. It has been a busy morning prepping for lunch, snacks and supper, and already getting hot out there. I’ve been wanting to fill you in.
And now here I am, feeling worried.
Perhaps it is because the cafe’s dishwasher has broken, and I now have to drink my coffee out of a paper cup. Perhaps it is because I miss my Mum and Dad, because I haven’t had a hug in weeks. Perhaps it is because whenever I go on Facebook, my newsfeed clogs up with all my happy friends embracing each other in their graduation gowns. Perhaps it is because I have such a long way to go before all that. Perhaps I do just feel a little left behind, and at the mercy of this illness.
Perhaps it is the disgust I feel for all this self-pity.

Ok Ellie, stop. You’ve forgotten to breathe again. You’ve forgotten where you are.

I didn’t check this was skinny milk. Oh no, I’ve already drunk at least half of it. I sigh: how will I think to remember this when I get on the scales tomorrow? That this one latte will have such an influence over my weight.

Stop Ellie. Try and enjoy these 15 mins you have here. Put your pen down if you like: you shouldn’t be writing if you’re only doing to prove something to Anonymous. Sip your coffee, taste your snack.

I think this is skinny milk. It looks watery enough.

1:24am: I just got home. It was actually a pleasant cycle home. The streets are less worrying when nobody else is on them.
Today actually went quite quick, which is really all I’d ever ask for. It was arrivals day for the next batch of students staying here this summer. They seem a little bit, well, cool than the last lot. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, so long as they are not too cool for rules.
In any case, the icebreakers I ran went down a treat. Nothing beats zip-zap-boing. In fact, the games were a perfect metaphor for today’s shift. I approached it thinking I’d be completely out of control. As it turns out, I didn’t have to force any fun. It all just happened.

Day 19: Difficult Day 2

I’ve just been weighed. Was not expecting that.

How exhausting it is to discover that in 5 days, gravity has grabbed every morsel of my body and yanked it up 0.8kg. How? After all these long days, these dodgy mealtimes, these restrictions – how – have I managed to regain the weight I lost last week?

It was a rather horrible experience all in all. I’ve registered as a temporary resident at a GP surgery here, and met the nurse and the scales that will be weighing me from now until the end of my time here.
Today turned out to be very different to last week, when I was shown into a GP with a pair of old fashioned scales. They ticked and creaked, and settled well below the weight I had arrived in Cambridge with, if you remember correctly. Today, I was ushered into a waiting room underground for 25 mins. The room was packed and airless, dark and with very little room to let Anonymous out to pace. I became extremely anxious and burst into tears before the nurse had come to get me.
After all that, I got on these new scales. As my weight leaped up, my jaw dropped. So did my guard. I was utterly overwhelmed by all these feelings.

49.8kg. Back to that weight I had when I arrived here three weeks ago.
How? How did I do that without realising?
How did I lose control?

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How to think straight: drink coffee, write, and just eat.

Now for some logic. Only here, cupping a strong coffee and considering it all, can logic get a word in edgeways. I’m just trying to work out which of these feelings are mine.

First came horror. It still sort of lingers, like a bad aftertaste.

Then I remember logic. Logic reminds me that these were a different pair of scales. These were scales of superior stuff to those I had relied on last week, for they were calibrated and electronic. These scales didn’t click menacingly upon receiving my weight. Last week may have been a lie altogether: could it be that all this worry about gaining weight so quickly could have been the work of misinformation?
Logic also reminds me how focused I have been on my plate this week. I swallowed the shame of bringing in so much food to work, and just did. I ate everything prescribed to me and counted every last calorie.
And the exercise? Perhaps there is something in what my doctor’s say: exercise only does so much to weight. It’s what you eat that counts.
Let it not be forgotten, too, that it is 11:30, and a hot day. I’ve been drinking lots of water and haven’t managed to have the ceremonial poo prior to being weighed.

If Anonymous lets me believe my eyes, and lets me think that this is nothing but a sign that I’ve been good, then that’s another matter.
If what has happened is true, some would interpret it as a good omen, not a threat.
It shows that despite ‘everything’, I can still let go of Anonymous.
‘Everything’ embellishes life here: cycling, sun, snacks, books, work, work, work, the energy to work. ‘Everything’ can serve as an excuse or an explanation for what I did with my food. Whatever happens to ‘Everything’ though, this weight shows I can do it.

Ellie, you can be trusted.
Imagine what you could achieve if it transpires you can maintain your weight alone?

Later On:

Today has just been an invitation to hate myself.
I am so stupid and a burden and utterly utterly useless.
Ellie, you did wrong. And now we’re crying outside the gate of the College for all the world to see. I think that tourist even just took a photograph.
I’m feeling useless and stupid, which is what I am.

If I had been educated at Oxbridge like everyone else here, maybe I would have a few more brain cells to use. Maybe I would have realised how to do my job properly.
Any other student counsellor here would have known how to run detention. Only I appear to be thick enough to think that holding students in solitary confinement for 3 hours in the midday heat is punishment enough for turning up late for registration.
Indeed, I felt I was being punished too. Anonymous hates being left with her own thoughts. I’ve got cramp from pacing round and round in circles; for that is all the exercise I could do in there. It was maddening.
Perhaps I’m just not a punishing person. When one of the students put his head on his book and shut his eyes, I didn’t think twice.
Only now I’ve been chastised for not forcing the students to do their homework during detention, do I realise how stupid I’ve been.
So stupid, that everyone agrees. It must be the talk of the staffroom: Ellie on detention duty, and she can’t even manage that properly. Utterly laughable, it I wasn’t affiliated with her name.

The worst part is is it is supper time, and I’m too worked up to eat. I’ll surely throw it all up in a frenzy. I can’t force any more anxiety into this body.
It won’t hold, and certainly won’t hold over the course of the coming difficult days.

(Disclaimer: I did eat supper, eventually. I really needed it. Crying is tiring.)

Day 20: Third and Final Difficult Day

Yes I may have overreacted a tad yesterday. I took criticism too personally, only because my professionalism was worn thin from tiredness. I know I say it a lot, but exhaustion is very real to me at the moment.

I’ve been watching threats come and go today, and have a theory regarding why they scare me so. They just get too close, too real.
My mind’s eye catches them out and Anonymous drags them in. She turns them over and over, examining them closely. She studies them to know them better, thus making it possible to anticipate their next move.
I watch people walk into a house and know the music will start soon. I see the binmen coming over the hill and know the sound will stay with me long enough to ruin the peace I need to eat.
And now here, back in Fitzbillies’ coffee shop. Two no doubt terribly important and clever people having a loud and egotistic conversation in an otherwise gentle environment. Why do their decibels make me so angry?
Is it because I came here to calm down; are they stopping me? Or are you letting them?
This is me re-angling myself into the here and now. Almost forcing ‘ok’ onto my tongue.

Stop. You’ve forgotten to breathe again.

How are you doing Ellie?
Well, I’m looking forward to my day off tomorrow. That’s after tonight’s night shift of course.
I’m also looking forward to buying myself some flowers later.
And writing in my positivity diary that despite ‘everything’ occurring in this cafe, I’ve managed to move my mind out of harms way. I’m doing ok today, like I said I would do.

I’m so looking forward to tomorrow. Mainly because I’ll be in control of my day and my food. Presuming of course that I make the choice to do so.
I hope I have a good day.

Day 21: Long awaited day off.

Tiredness is pretty. It blurs sharpness into a creamy lather, into which I have been sinking today. On my bike, shopping, wandering the meadows. Today, I have just leant back into tiredness, and let it drift on through.
I haven’t acted upon it as others can: I won’t sleep in or rest of anything. But Anonymous will grant it some acknowledgement at least.

All my work colleagues are in the cinema watching the Incredibles. As I write, they are probably a couple of minutes into the adverts.
I would love to have gone. I was invited of course, and had even allowed myself to get excited. Having been unable to take part in any of the social events happening for staff owing to anxiety, mealtimes or exhaustion, I really thought this would be the one I’d make it to. It transpired that they wouldn’t be attending an evening viewing like I thought. Instead, they are in the 12pm one.
I can’t sit for 185mins in a cinema, in the middle of the day. Anonymous won’t let me.
I told them I wasn’t feeling well when I cancelled, which I suppose is sort of true.

Stop writing now Ellie. You don’t have to write because Anonymous says so.
You’ve got nothing to prove to anyone.
But this week, I can’t help but think I’ve proved something to myself. I’ve don’t well. Because I said I would do.

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I took myself back to the meadows on my day off. Sometimes retreating is the best way forward.

Week 2: Fallen Scales

Yesterday

This grey and drizzly snacktime, I have had to do something a little different.

The first dreary cloud clogged up the skyline last night, and now all that sun has been ruined. I had to slip back into that person who arrived here two weeks ago, clutching a handful of useless ideas of where she might go when she needed her snack.
This is what I came up with. Sat at a bright table by the window, I’m sipping a semi-skimmed latte and bending over this notebook. Semi-skimmed not necessarily by choice, but because that seems to be independant-coffeehouse-speak for ‘skinny’. I think not, but after last night and this morning, I’m actually too exhausted to care. Anonymous can quibble over the handful of extra calories floating in this cup, but I’m having no part in it. Now, this here is a strange occurrence not just because of the coffee quandry. Perhaps you can hear it between the lines, perhaps you can sense the clamour shaking words off the page and out of my head. I walked into this noisy – nay, bubbly – coffeehouse, and felt anxiety turn me right around and march straight out. Grinding beans and steaming pumps, gurgles and burbles and babbling gabbling. It was a clamour to turn any anorexic’s empty stomach.
It was already 11:30, and I was already running late for my snacktime. Anonymous considered our options, and drank the room. We were in Fitzbillies: an iconic Cambridge coffeehouse, that must so happens to be a little too far away from anywhere else. When visiting, everyone “has” to try Fitzbillies. Coming here in the first place had been nothing more than an effort to be more adventurous. A table by the window watched me weigh up my options. Over ten people passed through, ordered, sat themselves down, but still that table remained empty. It was waiting for me to be brave, and so I stayed.
The food here looks delicious. I wonder if I’ll ever try one of those granola bars. No, not today. I’m a bit busy with my latte, see. Look how creamy it is! The milk is like velvet. I wonder how many calories it costs to be so fluffy? No, I haven’t googled it yet. I don’t think I should really, do you?
The noise in here is dying down a bit, and the coffee rush will be over in a matter of seconds. I can hear myself think again, and now I can’t avoid thinking of it any longer.

It is weigh day. I finally patched together a plan to get weighed each week, as requested by my clinic whilst I’m here. After failing miserably to get anywhere with the on-site-fabled-possibly-non-existent who has still yet to materialise, I snatch control before my nerves wrapped their fraying ends around this trigger, and registered as a temporary patient in a local surgery.
The scales have been falling all week. The needle click click clicked, and pulled gravity to my feet. The number was smaller than the number I arrived with, that is all I wish to say. Anonymous cast sweeping assurances that these were foreign scales, that I left my watch on, that I had cycled in, failed to poop, failed to get an appointment at 10 o’clock and instead had to attend at the farcical time of 9:35. So many units to build up to get an accurate weight, but this is the one I have. It is the number that I will work with and negotiate into next week.
I knew I was losing weight, I just didn’t know what that meant.

The whole country has caught football fever, myself included. I seem to be the only one in any discomfort; everyone else rides out the spasms of noise without blinking an eye. Anticipation assaults us all and yet I am the only one to fall.
You’re reading this and feeling revolted, I can taste it. How has anorexia managed to starve me of even the tiniest inkling of patriotism, any sense of fun? Allow me to explain.
No, listen. Actually listen: the explanation is in the air, mingling with all those gasps and cries and endless chanting. The noise is actually excruciating. It cuts right through me, and shakes Anxiety awake just when I’ve worked so hard putting it to bed.
There is still 26mins until the game starts, but the signs of a noisy onslaught have already been sighted.
Seven people clutching beer have just been appeared in next door’s window. Cars clot the drive; the shelves of every off-licence in Cambridge are bare, skeletal. And this: the sinister silence hanging over England, like bait.
I did not manage too well when England beat Sweden last week. I covered my ears and tried not to breathe in the sound. Still something must have leaked in, for an hour or so later I was curled up in my cupboard and howling for it to all be over: please, please let me sleep.
It is all too easy to brush Ellie’s words of comfort to one side: it’s a Wednesday, people need to be up in the morning for work; next door’s flat is tiny, they’d have to decant to a pub for an actual party. As a former student, I can say with certainty that no amount of limited space nor commitments will hold back a rush of alcohol infused desire to have fun. Oh, I wish I could still have fun.
My plan might work. I shall wade through each minute as if time weren’t stuck. There is a small chance the game itself will contain the masses. People will be glued to the screen, and noise will only be unstuck and lodged into my side if something actually happens. This should buy me enough to time to make supper, and eat it battling only Anonymous, not Anxiety as well.
I shall assess the situation when the familiar cries at the final whistle blows. If the decibels ring with alarm, I could put on a film. Not ideal, for I never watch TV in the evenings. Anonymous considers it a waste of time, but in this case she may just have to swallow it. Hard lumps of bad scriptwriting is easier to digest than what I daresay will await otherwise.
In the very likely event it reaches my bedtime and everyone is still at it, I’ll sink. An endless night of worry and exhaustion awaits, pressing in like treacle. Already noise is all over the neighbourhood, like a rash.
One wonders why I don’t just watch the game myself. Don’t get me wrong, I really want to. But it wouldn’t feel right, not all by myself.
Anxiety’s tolerance of noise has not made much progress at all really. If anything, it feels like it just drags me backwards.

Oh, I must just mention hummus-gate has been solved. Prior to my journey up here two weeks ago, I spent a happy afternoon in the kitchen making batches of my Anonymous approved hummus. I froze it in batches, and tried the first defrosted one today. As if it were made fresh, if a little stiff. Every now and then, it would do me good to defrost a little faith.

The Day before Yesterday

I can see my pillow from here, and it is calling. Oh my dear, I have been thinking of you since I left you this morning. All through the day, every word and mouthful, I was just thinking of your plump embrace, your lumbar support. How I would sink into you, and ride a dream out until dawn.
I am so excited to get into bed, so forgive me for keeping this brief.
Having just cycled home at 1 in the morning, I don’t quite see how I plan to actually go to sleep, for the adrenaline is still pumping a little too loud. If only it had hit me earlier, when I really needed it.
The morning confronted me with a grim cloud-clotted start. After yesterday, after the horror that was yesterday, today was promising to be just as frightening. I wanted none of it. I ate my breakfast grudgingly, docking a few calories here and there to start my anorexic sedation from the start.
When going on a school trip, Anonymous has always packed Anxiety. A great bulky load I had to carry all the way to London, again. After an anxious and restricted lunch, we loaded into the cell that would take us to the Strand, straight down the M11. I didn’t make it to work before I bucked under the stress. The thought of having to sit in that bus, through all that traffic, all over again. It was a heavy prospect, and it dragged my calorie count down. By doing so, it pushed Anonymous up. The 1hour 20 mins trip on a hunger high, still flying after this morning’s panic attack.
We arrived and everything left me. Every anxious animal in me collapsed in an exhausted heap. Luckily, the students had free time until the theatre show in the evening, and so so did we. I took myself off to those quiet corners of London that I know so well, and did everything I could to expel any residual worries before the show, and before I had to put on the show of ‘responsible adult’.

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That ain’t Pret food

I was grateful to eat my supper. I packed it that morning, complete with a picnic plate. Pretending it was completely normal to picnic in Pret.
The rest of the trip was fine. I’m good at looking after things, just not always myself.

The heat backed off today, and all this worry has left me cold. Three anxiety attacks in 24 hours: pricking thumbs of something wicked. This way, it might come.

I’m being weighed tomorrow, and I can’t wait. It has been over two weeks and I just can’t take the strain of uncertainty anymore. I care not if I’m losing weight: that much I can sense. What though, if it turns out I’ve actually gained? What would all this worry and incontinence and exhaustion mean then? Is that what recovery is?

I wish I didn’t have to stay up any longer. I wish I could be with you now, pillow. Alas it is not to be for at least half an hour. There are food diaries and positivity diaries to fill in, a plan to be made for the morning.
Ellie, have you soaked your oats for breakfast in the morning? There is much to prepare to meet another day.

02:00am: Hello, pillow.
02:03am: F*** off is there a car alarm going off.
02:30am: F*** off is it still ringing.
02:57am: Seriously.
03:07am: Why tho.

And thus our scene is set for another anxious, sleep deprived day. The perfect conditions to cultivate Anonymous.

The 12th Day away

So today has been a little bit horrific.
I had an anxiety attack on the bus, in front of all the students. Not to say any of them noticed, one hopes. I was fairly well-practised at disguising these assaults at university, and have not forgotten how to shut out my surroundings and turn it all in on myself. Cowering between the seats set a little too far forward for the cool kids to catch, stuffing a little too much of my uniform in my mouth for any of them to hear it. Wheezing engines of static, grid locked cars and thick headphones that beat sweat down everyone’s brows also helped cover for me. I was curled up in a ball, pressed in on myself and felt the heat, the traffic, the ticking clock counting the seconds I was stuck sitting there press in on me too. My phone was clutched to my ear, the desperate reassurances from Mum passing through my ears and absorbed into the anxious pit in between. This, my third phone call home in three days. If only I could stop calling Mum and Dad. I had rather thought this would give them break from me; a few weeks without their daughter ruining the good days.
I hope nobody saw me, I hope nobody heard. These feelings were so swollen, so cheap and nasty, I could have just given them away.
It was hell. Full, fiery hell. Anonymous pointed her pitchfork at my enormous bottom sat in a seat in the middle of the day. She rattled my nerves like the bars of a cell: I just wanted out. I was sitting so long, and was burning up in place of calories.
London’s roads were melting. Roads out of town a vast network of failing veins, with too many cars causing clots and tumours. Red brake likes lit the way out for over an hour. And then it was far from over: there was the great journey north. All the while taking place when Anonymous needs to be standing, moving, exercising. Yet here we were, shackled in place by a seatbelt. Hell, I tell you.

I have been negotiating all day. From the start, Anonymous had imposed traffic restrictions on my food. I was on-shift for a medic trip to a London hospital: of course I’d need to allow time to commute. I had sacrificed some food for that. But the extra time and extra traffic cost me dear calories. I hobbled home feeling disgusted at how empty and tired I felt: all I had done was take students to London and supervised their workshops on a ward. All I had done was a day’s work. Now, all I have is a shell of myself. My stomach is actually singing.

I really tried to help Anonymous survive the day. She leapt at any chance to make random trips around the hospital; she ran coffee and collected samples; replenished the syringe supply and disposed of the sharps. Even when we pulled in at 9am this morning, I let her feed me breakfast standing up. Anything to make the pain go away. War has raged all day.

And now I have to go through it all again tomorrow. I can’t face it. I’m too hungry and too worried, too frightened to eat in case the traffic comes back an tricks me into keeping those calories.
But I will do it. I have to: that’s my job. It’s part of recovery, and what I’m here for.

Oh, wait wait wait! Something good did happen today: in fact I am almost sure it is what stopped me from self-combusting on that bus.
I was published in the Times again! Yay!
(Now – journalists. They have to sit. If I want to be a writer, I will one day have to sit.)

Day 11

I had another panic attack last night, halfway through 2 films I wasn’t really watching. One was being screened in the cinema, a ticket to which I had bought this morning without consulting my energy levels. At 5pm everything was empty. Even stuffing myself with supper hasn’t filled the hole, so I just stayed home, and tried to drown out the ghostly clamour of Saturday nights.
I failed. The noise got me, and Anxiety could feast.

I don’t want to write about last night. For now, let me just tell you that I am safe. I’ve eaten breakfast and my snack (a latte and energy ball, if you’re interested), and am about to tuck into lunch.
Reality is starting to get to close in Cambridge. It breathes down my neck, with condensation breaking out in an anxious sweat. Ellie needed to get out of it, fast. So we got on my bicycle and came here.

Here is where I have come to escape other people. Here is where I thought I could come and just be quiet, be alone. These are the Grantchester meadows: a great expanse of rippling grass that hugs the riverbanks. There, a pocket of willow trees leaning over the water, draping their branches to skim the surface. It is here, in the quietest, shadiest spot I could find, that I am writing to you now. I’m chewing a salmon sandwich, and watching dragonflies lick the lilypads. The light is almost blinding. What a relief to have the responsibility of foresight taken away, even if it is just until another person happens upon my seclusion and shatters my shield.
Here, I can watch the river traffic. Lumbering punts and pushy kayaks, a duck, a swan, a small boy on a SUP.
Yes, I feel safe here. I feel safe away from all that.

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A little slice of solitude

Day 10

I’m going through the day with a fine-toothed comb, trying to find something positive to write. Today, I am pulling apart thick clumps of worry and anxiety, and pulling out microscopic good things like nits. Every now and then I get too close, and a spine of Anxiety gets lodged in my hands, which I must then carry through the rest of the day.

The novelty of being away and living independently has worn away. Exciting places and exciting prospects come away with very little resistance to anorexia. Suddenly, I can see straight through Ellie’s optimism and excitement, and see the vast but thin network of disordered thoughts. “New” has paled under scrutiny: for everything about me is just the same.
Anonymous has been given the opportunity to be everywhere. She is unsupervised, under pressure and armed with a bicycle. Just, I suppose, as I am armed with Ellie, but my weapon keeps getting distracted by the sun or the smell, or just fear.
I’m starting to worry. Now the buzz has dipped off, I can hear it. I can hear the noise. Slamming doors and calls; squeaky railway tracks; spluttering motorbikes and hoarse men asserting themselves the only way they know how. It’s everywhere. A thousand final straws to draw.

I had my first anxiety attack since arriving today, and it was horrible. I was walking through town on one of the busiest streets at lunchtime, and it just happened. Something electric passed through the crowd and sun, and suddenly it had ignited. I couldn’t see for all the stars flashing like falling scales.

I’ll never know what started it, I never do. But we can draw on records from this diary in the moments leading up to it, and build a skeleton out of fragments. I had sat in the Fellow’s Garden with my coffee, and scribbled down any excuse I could for my shaking hands.
Is it simply the unknown I face everyday? The people, the place, my fate on the scales I still haven’t got on? Or perhaps the flat. Yes, Anonymous has gotten over the glamour of having a whole kitchen to herself, and has just noticed how small the flat actually is. She’s been doing the maths: how many steps fewer are you taking by staying here, Ellie?
Or perhaps, it is exercise itself. The happiness gleaned off my handlebars feed both Ellie and Anorexia. There is no greater feeling than soaring down a gentle slope on two wheels. When this gets taken away, as it surely will in four weeks time, how will I cope then? Anonymous will be hooked, addicted. Ellie will be bereaved. I shall deny forever that my grief at not being able to cycle at home is because I’ve taken a step backwards, and dabbled with exercise again.
Or perhaps it is all of it. Perhaps I can cope with these things in batches, but not all of it. Not all at once.

Day 9

There is a quote that comes to mind every time I come here. These Fellow’s gardens at Clare college, set back from the river and the rushing tide of people and places. “I like this place and could willingly waste my time in it” (As You Like It, the Bard himself). This possibly isn’t relevant to anything. But I wanted to share it here. It might give you some sense of comfort I get by retreating into one of the many College gardens.

I have been quite agitated for a few hours now. Every sound a sediment, clamour building up like sand. I pray it does not burst it’s banks. No, this anxiety is louder than noise. This anxiety is Anonymous.

I think I’ve eaten too much. I’m not sure, I might have only eaten enough to meet my meal plan, but it is more than I told myself I’d be eating today. And that makes me anxious.

Put simply, it will be a matter of 140kcal. There is no excuse, but I would like to try and explain what led me to having that snack, instead of the smaller snack I had planned.
So basically I panicked. It was a hot, sweaty day, and I had turned up for my shift at 3pm having had a full day fulfilling anorexia’s walking quota, and had a telephone appointment with my clinic. To say I was tired would be bad storytelling.
I arrived, and was hurled headlong down a list of errands I had to run before setting up for the student’s party that evening. The tasks were simple but geographically complicated. I spent two hours marching about the city, picking up props and paying for punts. And then of course, I had to turn up at the venue to “show face” for the academy lest it be thought that we expected people to do their jobs without up breathing down their necks. By 4:30pm and 30degrees, everything started to go pale. I felt something in me lift – Ellie – and she went to the nearest juice bar and ordered.
I have lived my whole life believing a small Banana Buzz juice was worth 250kcal. I’ve had them before and survived. The hat got to me, and mid-slurp, I googled it. Just to check.
354kcal. Ah.

Anonymous immediately threw away her nightsnack and set about calculating how much of her supper she was allowed to eat. The problem was, it happened again. I excused myself from my post supervising the exit, and found somewhere quiet to sit and have my supper away from prying eyes. And then I ate all of it. Ellie just shovelled the food into my mouth, ravenous for any ounce of energy to help her through her shift until 1am. I don’t understand why, but I just felt I needed it. I was exhausted.

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Smuggled in my supper. DEMOLISHED

It has been a very emotional day, really. Surely that must be worth some calories?
And as my nurse said, I probably need them.
I just don’t believe I do.

 

Day 8

I’ve just published my last blog so I’m going to keep this short and sweet.

Got very bored and agitated at work: too much admin in too smaller office; too many questions as to why I insisted on standing and running errands. Far too many Anonymous eyes watching me desperately try not to have an inactive day. (Ellie: “define ‘inactive’”?)

I will elaborate on the current argument between Anonymous and Ellie another time. It’s a recent dispute over whether or not Ellie is losing control of her exercise levels since she arrived here, and I’m just not wanting to talk about it right now.
I don’t want to scare myself by believing I’ve started going backwards.

Right now

Thank you for helping me retrace my steps through a very difficult week.
Going backwards has spat me out where I began: proud and full of hope.
Tomorrow, I will work to reset myself. Let us hope I can carry myself into the next week, and hold myself as the days rush forwards, clawing and pulling at Recovery’s scaly back.

Week 1: Under a Chinese Vine

Day 1

From the second moment, we clicked.
On that sweaty summer’s day, the key slid into the lock and the door opened. Humid air melted into a cool breeze from windows here, here and here. Foreign sounds of cars, children and cities only just scraped through the gap in the panes. Light flooded into this small flat and made the walls lean back, make way.
Mum and I waded in, clutching several cold boxes full of anorexia friendly supplies that we’d almost certainly find on Cambridge high street. We didn’t want to leave it to chance.
The bedroom has a bed that doesn’t hurt. The mattress accepts the osteoporotic curl in my spine, but chooses not to provoke it.
The bathroom was clean, or at least, clean enough for me to clean it again only once.

Some things don’t click immediately, and need to be wiggled about a bit until they fit well.
The third moment I had been in the flat, Anonymous was baffled. Where are you expected to eat? There is a desk, yes, and a sofa and coffee stool. But where pray, will I be able to carry out the rituals of consumption, alert and sat up straight?
We found a table folded up in the cupboard, and it now sits in the centre of the room. It is slightly precarious, and wobbles if it cannot be supported by the wall. It now sports a chair for me to sit at, today’s paper and a small bunch of sweetpeas. Their aroma froze home and bought it up here, to be with me for the next six weeks.
Ah, and the kitchen. This shrine to an eating disorder, a stage on which life hangs delicately in the balance. Which life will I choose today?
Ellie had tried to prepare herself for the eventuality of it being a disaster. She was armed with Detol and bleach, and confronted the kitchen door reciting an order of priorities she’d work through: fridge, floor, surfaces, handles, surfaces, cupboard doors … I was set up to scream.
The fourth moment in the flat, I lowered my antibacterial weaponry. The kitchen, like the rest of the flat, was fine. There were no festering carcasses or empty noodle cartons. No mould crusted the side and the oven door was at least visible, rather than being shrouded under layers of oily grime. The fridge door didn’t fall off, and there was air.
The fifth moment, Anonymous raised her cleaning utensils again, and attacked anyway. Just in case.

Mum and I set about unpacking my immediate necessities: out came a carton of Waitrose own organic semi-skilled milk, dates, avocadoes, bags of dry calories.
Next followed my blender – my most loyal companion in the fight to feed. I cleaned a draw and filled it with a single knife and fork, one cutting knife, a wooden spoon. Piled a stranger’s crockery into a random cupboard and installed my own yogurt bowl, breakfast spoon, milk pan. Even my glass measuring jug survived the long journey north.
I found this flat on airbnb, and it belongs to strangers. They have utensils, washing up brushes, graters and the like. But I can’t use them. We don’t know what they’ve been cooking, and I wouldn’t want to lick up any second hand calories.
I made room, and left room for anorexia. At least today, I know I am more comfortable than she is. I have somewhere safe, quiet and clean to prepare my food. That is a relief.

Day 2: Training

I had turned the corner and told myself not to run back. Mum had stood on a crowded pavement, told me she was proud. She waved me off into time’s unforgiving channel, and I was suddenly flushed away from the close support of my family, and into the world of independent living.
Ok, Ellie.
For six weeks, you are going to get to live alone.
I had expected loneliness, or anxiety, or one of anorexia’s friends to greet me. They didn’t come. Instead, I walked briskly down King’s Parade, and set about achieving my first goal on my own: to have my scheduled snack, even in the face of six weeks of uncertainty. I sat in the sun, and considered how potent my own company was.
You’ll be ok Ells, so long as you don’t lose sight of yourself in loneliness. Don’t forget what anorexia looks like: she looks different to you.

It is the beginning of the end of a very long day, and I want to write so much.
I want to write how frustration rose like bile as I stood on a stagnant bus, watching cyclists zip through the rush hour traffic.
I want to write and tell you where I have found anorexia in Cambridge: there, there, over there. How she glared at me all through training, where I had to sit throughout the 4 hour session.
I want to write how she loathes my exhaustion, when all I have done is sit, sweating. I want to write how I missed my second snack because I had sat through it. How I still feel so hungry and so frightened, it hurts. My mouth aches from holding so much saliva since catching a whiff of pastry in the corner shop. My cheeks are chaffed and bleeding from where I’ve been chewing, trying to convince Anonymous that she can wait for food, just a little longer. How my stomach has emptied into my bowels and erupted in a desperate call for digestive help.
I want to write about the terrible crime I’ve committed to help anorexia through the next few weeks. If I scratch her back, she’ll clamber on mine with less aggression.
I want to write how fate has been leaving signs for this inevitable failure everywhere. Snippets of local news ft crashes, death and disaster feed the hungry, paranoia beast who seems that much louder now I’ve nobody else to talk to.
I want to write how easy it is to hear her, even in this beautiful city. Even when I can’t hear myself think: even through the clatter of plates from the flat below, the crying child in the flat opposite, the raucous laughter of friends in an apartment a few blocks over, I can still hear her.
I want to write how excited I am about starting my job, but I can’t because I don’t know when that is. I still don’t have a rota or a plan. I can’t prepare myself for the summit of this challenge: I cannot plan my meals nor work out where and when I can eat. There is more: I don’t know how much to eat for breakfast tomorrow. Should I eat little enough so I can sit, or more than enough to move about?
I want to write how anxious all this is making me today.

But I won’t. Negativity makes such salivating reading, and I will not indulge in it. Too many good things have happened today, and ruined it’s bitter taste.

Tomorrow, I will deal with the consequences of my crime. I will also walk to training, just to take the edge off the stagnant stench of inactivity that awaits me in First Aid.

Day 3: Training

Someone has hurled some food for thought at a wall opposite King’s College. It’s a ghastly post-modernist construction eating into the ancient walls, and called art.
This masterpiece features a skeletal locust leeching on a clock. Each irregular second is devoured by the clanking cogs of this iron insect. With mechanic mindlessness, it clamps it’s mouth shut on every minute without tasting it. It just looks greedily onto the next.
“Chronophage”: Time-Eater.
A perfect metaphor for anorexia, methinks.

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“Chronophlage”

Anywho, back to today.

I had a better night’s sleep last night, and woke up feeling much less worried by this whole exercise. My bed felt cosy as opposed to claustrophobic, and the city stretched into the future rather than falling short in just a few days time.
Sleep shook shock from my eyes, and some elaborate scales have fallen away from my anorexic crime. Guilt is less potent. No doubt tomorrow, when I have more time and energy, it will all flare up again.

On energy: I have none.
My day gets hollowed out as time wears on. Coping with the seconds as they slide by in this strange place tires me out, before I can begin putting my mind to the exhausting task of making enough food to se me through the day tomorrow. I am rendered empty of thought and word enough to bulk out my limbs and fashion them into a presentable, upright state past 6:30pm.
I stood in the shower moments ago, and felt the ground pull me close. This is all just so tiring.
I’ve had to miss another staff social event. Last night they went to the pub (sticky beer patches, all nighters, plumes of smoke – it was a no from Anonymous), tonight they have gone to some pizza place in town for food. I’d never have managed eating there, even if I had the energy to navigate my way down an unseen menu.
But I would have liked to have joined them afterwards, say, in a few hours time, for a drink. I had been invited. As I can’t seem to make my mouth move enough to let words out (not that there is anyone to talk to here anyway) and still need to make supper and my night snack, I just wouldn’t have time. Plus the commute to get anywhere would be well over 20 mins without a bicycle.
Instead, I’m going to read the paper, and listen to Radio 4 in the kitchen. Small familiar comforts are enough to prevent me feeding time to Anorexia.

Today felt long.
It tasted tough and strung out. Hours spent waiting for someone to give me something to do. I suppose I have been trained in the art of patience if nothing else.

The College haven’t hired a nurse yet, so I’m going to have to wait to find out who will weigh me. That’s ok for now, but I just know that Anxiety can store this up for trouble later. How will I know it’s all ok, if I’m not being weighed?

Time has had more to eat than me today. I have found food incredibly difficult since coming here, and I want to write why, but can’t.
I can’t because I didn’t realise restriction was happening, until my stomach was groaning for me to realise how much I haven’t eaten. My intake has taken a deep breath in to make room for mistakes, and I am scared Ellie will start shrinking. She gets small and frightened when things go wrong.
I will do better tomorrow. I have to.

I shall also be less irritating.
It has been such a long time since I was around people my own age, it seems I have completely forgotten how to act at all normal. From across the room, I watch Ellie drown under hoards of uniformed graduates, accolades glittering in their eyes and intelligence billowing from their bicycles. I try watching every other person I come across, see how they react to me and act for me.
Only when time runs out, do I try and spot myself in the crowd again, and realise I’m lost. Spending too much time around people makes me feel anxious, because I lose focus on myself. And at the moment, I have to put myself first.

Anorexia never had to put up with any of this social anxiety crap. She just starved it out, and grew fat on time.

Day 4: First Day Off

I’m sitting beneath a Chinese Trumpet Vine (Campsis Grandflora), and my feet are burning. Anorexia’s feet are the first thing to go cold in a crisis, but today they have started to burn.
The scorching summer sun cannot squeeze beneath the canopy of heavy vine leaves, and so my head is quite protected. I can see straight out across the quad and onto the river through the branches, but can nestle here in nature’s protective embrace, and enjoy being with myself. My feet don’t fit. I’ve had to dip my toes into the world outside.
This must be what it feels to be inspired. For Cambridge really is a truly inspiring place. Even tucked under this vine, I cannot see all the Colleges around me – I don’t have to. I know they are there, just from the way my feet tingle.
What an honour it is to be here.

I found somewhere to meditate on myself. A retreat. I shan’t tell you where: but please know that I am well protected from the sun but still exposed to light.

In this light, I need to redefine what it is to be honest. I do so here, in a single sentence: It tingles.
Anxiety trembles and slips about on my meal plan, but positivity quivers in anticipation of something good, something great.

But now I remember my anorexic crime, and my feet begin to sweat.
The very thought of anyone finding out makes me come over faint and clammy, because if they did I’d lose it all. All this, all this greatness: burning desire and excitement, Chinese Vines, summertime gladness and independence – would be taken. Taken out of anorexic hands, for she might not cope with it.

It may not be that bad. But the fact I don’t want to tell you anything about it, nor want anyone to speculate it may be what it is, tells me I shouldn’t be doing it.
If I had had permission to do it I’d be fine right now. But I didn’t even ask, because I was afraid the answer would be a resounding no.

Day 5: Arrival’s Day

I don’t know how I’m going to get through the next 6 weeks.
Am exhausted.
Am wanting sleep.
Am going to be brief because of the latter.

Students began to arrive today. Twelve hours of smiling and greeting and to-ing and fro-ing has just about exhausted any anorexic concern about lack of activity. It was all absolutely fine until the end of my shift came – oh, glorious 8pm – and there were still students needing to be registered, roomed and toured. Nearly had an anxiety attack at the thought of the journey home and another full day of work tomorrow.
Still have no on-site nurse and no plans to be weighed. Still trying not to think about it. Still trying not to have an anxiety attack about that too. Still think I need to try harder.

Am so hungry, but it’s too late to eat anything now.
Tomorrow will be better, I want to write.

Night night.
(Must not think about tomorrow’s night shift. Shhhh.)

Day 6: Night Shift

Can’t talk. Am exhausted. Wish I were in bed already but still have to wash up my tupperware, fill in my food and positivity diaries (tonight’s entries are party to it’s demise for simply demanding completion at this ungodly hour) and find my sense of humour. At 2 in the morning, it tends not to show itself. I had forgotten that. It has been years since I stayed up past midnight.
Oh no, I’m teaching tomorrow.
Dreading
dreading
dreading.
Have no lesson plan. Have no teaching experience of sullen sixteen year olds. Have no idea if they bear any resemblance to 4 year olds, instructionally speaking. Have no wish to find out. Have no wish to look upon the great void of originality with which I am supposed to pull this inevitable farce together.
Bed. Just let me go to bed.

Day 7: Creative Writing Masterclass

Anyway back to last night, or should I say this morning?
Only a few hours ago, I had been uniform-clad and chatting merrily away to my colleague in the dead of night. We swept the corridors every half an hour, prowling about for any rogue students railing against the injustice of a curfew.
To survive the gruelling two hours waiting around the College, we turned it into a game. It seemed as if the building itself were laughing along with us: floorboards creaked and doors slammed, deliberately belittling our effort to be as quiet as possible so as not to wake the students. The printer roared all night, and a syncopated stapler accented the cheerful crackles of laughter conducted by a Harry Potter trivia quiz. Who ever said nothing good happens after midnight? In what world is several hundred quick-fire questions to distinguish who was a bigger muggle not a good idea?
In what world did I ever believe I’d have the strength to find out?

There is more.
I’d like to point out to the less observant among you, that yesterday’s shift spanned 9 hours: 15:00-01:00. Yes, all very impressive by itself. But let us look closer at the details of it: Let us count how many meals I had to prepare in advance and eat in stressful circumstances.
Snacks could be eaten quietly at my discretion. Supper on the other hand, was rather more worrying.
I bought a fancy salad-specific tupperware on my day off, and set about packing it in advance yesterday afternoon.

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Avocado smuggling

There were all these cubby holes to put the dressing and garnish in. I could separate the feta from the squash so neither went soggy, and store the kale so it didn’t go limp. All very organised and cute; but looks questionable when produced in a university catered dining hall and decanted onto a plate. I carried it off well.
I had resigned Ellie to the fact that she wouldn’t be able to focus on her food completely at supper, and so packed a simple meal with fewer calories to keep an eye on.
I ate, and tried to taste more than the alarm of being around so many plates of steaming Yorkshire puddings, and under the scrutiny of so many eyes.

After four and a half hours sleep, I rose from my bed and went about my day as usual.
My eyes were upholstered by a puffiness that leaked a few salty tears. Gravity felt a little more unforgiving, and my legs were slightly swollen after a night roaming the College.
And yet, they worked.
They carried me from bed to kitchen to chair to sink; my ravenous brain worked it’s way through the day with a hunger for caffeine and adrenaline; my eyes could focus on the lesson plan in front of me. I swung from thought to thought in a straight line.
My energy levels finally gave up as I fell through the door that evening. Making and eating supper was a slow, sultry affair. A memory of going to bed: a blackout.

If I were to measure this interesting circumstance and how I coped with it against my Anonymous past, we’d be alarmed. Previously, I’d never have made it out of bed if I’d been up that late the night before. We’d never have known this of course: previously, I would never have contemplated even trying to work at night. The risk of screwing up my body’s metabolic clock, thus inflating no.kcal consumed and absorbed, was too great.
And yet this week, I was forced to do it without even thinking. Sort of.

The morning melted away quickly, and before long I was wading into my creative writing class.
I fumbled with the projector and rearranged the desks. I wiped equations off the whiteboard and doodled a few learning objectives under the workshop title.
The students filed in, and my nerves clung to me like sweat.

On paper, my lesson plan was sparse at best. A skeleton that I had to somehow bring to life in the next two hours.
I had forced Anonymous to sit for an hour that morning to organise how we’d manage the lesson. She choked at the very sight of a chair so soon after finishing breakfast. I was full, triggers brimming over my tolerance level already. Swallowing sitting was a big ask.
I raced through a powerpoint and punched quotes haphazardly at my keyboard. Any moment I could I could stand to cut something, check something, twitch or fidget, was leapt up on. Ellie gritted her teeth and sucked on the exercise I had done on night shift, walking up and down those corridors.
It’s ok, you can afford to sit.

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I had my own classroom and everything!

Hello, welcome, hi.

I am teacher supreme.
At least, that’s how it felt afterwards. Euphoria and relief put a spring in my step as I paced between the desks, leaning over the students as they finished the final exercise I had set them. I watched perfection scratch out the attainable.
Self confidence was worked into a frenzy and screwed up in a ball, tossed into the bin. Some bent over their work, with words pouring onto paper like vomit.
It was fascinating to watch writers’ minds working faster than their pens. Every thought edited before being committed to paper, as if they were worried about what would happen if someone read the truth between the lines.
I know that feeling all too well.

That evening, honesty finally released me.
Six days chewing over the tough decision of whether or not I would confess my secret crime came to an abrupt end of the phoneline. I called home to issue a warning to my parents. Ellie did it to save herself: she was so looking forward to a day with her Mum and Dad, she didn’t want it to be ruined.
She didn’t want to be looking on a reunion across the gulf of dishonesty.

That which I now confess to you: I succumbed to temptation, and hired a bicycle.
We shall say no more for now, except that my journey has been slashed in half and I get more time to much needed sleep.
A win for Ellie, and for Anonymous.

And then the other thing I have to confess to them. That my nails are flaking away, that my bladder cannot hold itself together. That the warning signs have started, and that I better brace myself before I get on the scales.

Day 8: Mother of Motivation, Father of Faith

It felt strange at first. As if I had been woken from a dream and was gasping for air, and trying to work out where I was. For it was not the place Mum had left me in when we said goodbye this time last week. Ellie, where did we leave reality?
Over here: in the arms of the two people who are helping me prise Ellie out of Anorexia’s grip.

Mum and Dad came to visit me today. We arranged it over the phone, after I had called up after a long shift and burst into tears. Just because that is what I do, and it can seem alarming. It helps though, I promise.

I took one look at them and was bought back down to earth. Standing on the Citi 3 bus into town ready for a wander around this lovely city, I looked at my parents and remembered why I had come here, and what I wanted to achieve.
I’m not here for a job. I’m here for a change, and a chance.
It was so easy to slip into a dream. How lovely it would have been to believe that anorexia would have just let me go, just because we were busy and somewhere new. Different people and times, as if we could trick her into getting stage fright. Ellie, you still have anorexia. You still need to choose recovery, always.

We had a nice day. Lovely actually. We muddled our way down winding side streets, past the Colleges and into the Scholar’s Gardens. We sipped latte in the sun and took a picnic to the park. We watched punters wave big sticks from the river banks. We chatted gently about life and the universe.

They are so kind, and I am so lucky. I will never forget that, and so never forget myself. Not even amongst all these challenges and good things, and all this confidence. I will not forget myself, and must continue to recover it.

Look Ellie. Look at what you’re doing. Look how proud you’re making your Mum and Dad.

Tomorrow, I will register at a GP surgery as a temporary patient and get weighed; I’ve given up with the on-site debacle. I will also eat good meals and devour time as if I appreciated the luxury that it is, and how privileged I am to have so much of it.
Tomorrow, I will also start a new book and enjoy some of the homemade dhal Mum bought up for me today.
Tomorrow, I will try.

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I can confirm it is still the most deliciously thing in the world.

Watch Me

Ellie is taking part in an experiment this summer.
An extensive study on how far I have come in recovery, and how much further I have the potential to go.

From tomorrow, Change will be injected to all parts of my life. I will be leaving home awhile, and working in a land far away from my parents, doctors and comfort.
It is a job that people with long, important names thrive in.
Time will go haywire. Long days chasing students into activities, followed by curfew watches and counselling.
I will be away from an environment that nurtures the growth of recovery.

In order to adapt, I must test the power of the following belief: “If it is not trying to achieve recovery, you shouldn’t be doing it.” – Ellie, June 2018

This is going to force Ellie into uncomfortable positions. It will demand that she is flexible, that she pushes herself over the thin boundaries we have abided by for years.
She must bow down before her meals even after they aggravate Anxiety. She must lay herself down in favour of heavier responsibilities, and take up calorific arms against exhaustion to prevent failure. Over 500 students will push Anonymous over the limit, but Ellie must choose to tread carefully, following everyone else’s lead.
She will be expected to over-stretch the anorexic marks and, by doing so, will tear the knots out in handfuls.
This will be a juggling act. A never before seen routine: the spectacle of anorexia being forced to work with sleep, society, food and duties. They will all be tossed into the air and ordered, leading each other through each day, into a week. Two, six.

This is the purpose of this experiment: to see if a healthy routine can be developed and maintained in a new and threatening environment. This rich, crowded and exciting community could spawn all kinds of culture in Ellie. If I can adapt to unchartered territory and still navigate towards recovery, the ends of the earth could fall away to reveal more opportunities in the future.

During this experiment, we shall observe the anatomy of Change.
It’s skeleton could be made up of something so simple as belief. Might we direct it further, and establish what exactly makes a strong belief? What power might it have to manipulate the facts?
We might see a single positive belief topple Anxiety, one worry after another. A domino effect of realisations.

We may be able to identify signs of disease with ease. Even in that blurry future, we can already anticipate the vulnerable aspects of Change.
In this case, there are several areas of concern. One is exercise, the other is food.
How will Anonymous react when she is exposed to exercise? How might we prevent her catching the need to do any?
The spectre of different air, different scales and different mealtimes is already enough for Anonymous to predict that her weight will rocket the moment her adventure begins. This we know, this thought already established. What we are attempting to learn in this experiment, however, is what to do with that thought.
That infectious and frightening thought.
My meal plan will have wounds slashed into it by my timetable. What we must observe, is if Change can nurture the decision to cover the wound in calories so it can heal. Otherwise, it will simply leave a hole for hunger to thrive, and my recovery will start to rot.

Yes, we must scrutinise Change. I am so desperate to find evidence of independence. I am so desperate to prove I can manage.

There are other variables to consider.
Some have been easy to control: I have found somewhere to live that promises to be clean and quiet. A little kitchen for me to carry out the rituals of food preparation.

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Who bets I get through all 2kg?

I have arranged medical provision when I arrive and will be weighed every week, just to check Change doesn’t have any destructive adverse effects. I will also be returning to my clinic mid-way through the summer. The corridors of the hospital wing I have haunted for over two years will be yearning for me almost as much as I will them.
Other variables are less compliant. The animal emotions that rage towards my plate, the thoughts Anxiety hurls my way to ward off Change. The unknown corners Anorexia can whisper from: I can walk that far.
Then there are them: the intruders.

They become so rowdy, so disruptive, they are just impossible to ignore. They peel my memory to shreds, piece by piece, and begin to rearrange it.
They call my memory a liar and retell a story of what really happened. A chronicle enhanced with extra senses and superpowers: oh, how I delved into another person’s head and rummaged around their judgements. How I chose the bad to take away; how I baited karma to bat it’s eyelid: a butterfly’s wing blinking in horror. The future is written off already. Intrusive thoughts take justice into an anorexic head, and squeeze it thin.
And of course, they’ve the additives that come with anorexia. Starvation syndrome, even when I feel so heavy, makes a light bite for anxiety. I’m so hungry for reason, I attach myself to the strongest one I can find. And normally, it an alien one. Imagined and unreal, but totally believable.
The damage isn’t what they take. It is what they leave behind. The ghosts of a paranoid future.

They come at their leisure.
At school, as I listen to a four year old child break down words – one letter at a time – time crawls out of my control. It lags behind my whirring thoughts, and soon I feel the chair under my bottom grip me, now for too long.
As the energy grounds onto my mat at the close of a yoga practice, I cast any energy back down into the mat. Ellie grounds herself on her spot in the studio, and retreats into herself. Waiting for her, is a thought.
An alarmed and angry thought suddenly pops up into my mind and refuses to budge. As the class quiets into stillness, it starts to fidget. It pokes and twists, stabs a knife into recovery’s back. It is the most difficult of all the yoga poses: shivasana – that of utter stillness. And an anonymous thought cannot hold with it. My energy is taken and ricochets up off on a tangent, flying sky high and terrified of the very thought of sitting still for 4 mins. The intrusion makes noise in my head, and disturbs my practice.
I cannot practice being me as I am in that moment, with an intruder hijacking my thought processes and driving them into a fat and maddening future.
What if this happens when I’m away?

This is what we are working on. This is an experiment on how well I can cope; even if only with my own excitement!
(Food for thought: define “well”?)

We expect Change to aggravate the intruders, so have made preparations for them. Intrusive thoughts never leave, but they can be encouraged to stand aside by distraction. I am expecting to be busy at work, and hope it will be enough to force a threat’s sharp point out from my side.

I think I can do it.
– Another thought, another belief. What power might positivity wield?

An Anonymous subject in a summer uniform.
Let us see what happens.

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Observation 1: Change can get very emotional.