Take the Biscuit

Fear came to me, in gingerbread.
It was a small man, grinning. His arms were spread-eagled; he was the colour of warmed honey. He had a frosty stare, eyes dilated by sugar.

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Today, I bought Ellie a little man made of gingerbread. She broke him into pieces, tore him limb from limb. She bit into his eye and let his flesh melt on her tongue. Crumbs crusted up around her lips, shards of sugar rained into her lap.
Fear appears to me in many forms, and today, it chose gingerbread.

When I was bigger but younger, fear was an empty space.
It shape shifted from a quiet house, to a table for one. A “miss” forever attached to my name, a ringless finger and a barren womb. Fear was the prospect of the rest of my life living by myself, in this empty space.

Anorexia will confine me in this lonely cave. Whilst I carry out my escape plan, I have had to make myself comfortable here.
I have filled it with books, and written my university coursework in it’s silence.
I have potted skills and watched them germinate: baking, painting, crafting. I am learning Mandarin.
I have spread myself out, and laid out all my blessings. These I count every day, and wouldn’t swap them for anything – not even a way out.
I am safe here, and so I can plot the rest of my recovery.

Here, I have learned I can be by myself. I just can’t quite be by myself on my own, yet.

Planning my next move: another weight deadline, another anxiety exerciser, another careful word of compassion, is getting easier. I think.
And because I think, I am: I becoming the vision of my future which haunted me at first, but now lulls me into action. All the possibilities of this empty space: what a big career I could cram into it; how many friends I could persuade to break in; the parties I might throw and trash the place. Like a hallucination, I can almost taste what must come next.

This empty space is became half-empty, and has now swelled up: half full.
Fear mutates like a resistant disease.
We have driven it from the form of man and earth, to pain, to pasta – now, into bitesized pieces of gingerbread.
Perhaps, Ellie, we are winning the war on fear.

And we must be kind to it.
This gingerbread man is just another lonely sole, waiting for someone to buy his smile.

Good Mourning

Ellie is not taking this breakup well.

I know she hurt me.
I know she isn’t good for me.
I know she doesn’t deserve me, as I don’t deserve her.
Objectively, I understand that no human being deserves to be abused the way she abuses me.
I know she is just using my body.
I know she wants me for one thing and one thing only.
I know she tried to kill me, and she wishes me dead.

I know she is an abusive partner.
But she is still my partner.
I don’t know what I’d do without her. I don’t know what I’d do with all this love, and all this hate.

Grief has nowhere to go.
It is the empty space which links one day with the next. Without her, I don’t understand how I’ll get through them.

Recovery is killing Anorexia, and I’m grieving.
My weight is bleeding kg, a red flood ebbing closer towards the border between an “anorexic” BMI, and an “underweight” one.
Part of me is dying as another wakes up screaming, gasping for air and writhing in the fresh light of day. I am holding this tiny new life with no idea how to comfort it, and no partner to do the shift work.
What on earth do I do with myself.
Anorexia, what did you do with me?

This is a volatile stage of recovery, apparently.
Each day is mined with new surprises. The mood swings are steeper, the black blacker and the light closer. Sometimes I see the point, others I look for an end to it.
I am recovering Ellie, but I am also recovering time – and I am trying to relearn how to use it. Not enslave it or control it, but tame it into a friend. At the moment, Time is wild and angry. Time baits me with a life with my anorexia: a life free from her.

Here is how I handle new time:
I cry, and call my parents, I bake.
I throw my weight – all of it – behind crazy craft projects just to grow something with all this reclaimed time.
I put anorexia in uncomfortable situations just to test how much strength she has left in her. A drink at the pub with a friend was great. It nearly killed her; but then ordering a flapjack with unknown calories in it made her nearly kill me.

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Why you so scary.

It might be a bit too soon to push that part of Anorexia away.
Most of the time, I just cry.

I do not cry for her.
I cry for me, and all for me.

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Craft exhibit A: a growing flower wall. Petals are made out of all the snack wrappers I’ve kept: the Deliciously Ella wrappers are particularly good with PVA glue!
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Craft exhibit B: yes, I built a tree.

Fat-Igue

Fat-igue.
(Noun) – Extreme exhaustion resulting from the mental and physical exertion of gaining weight in recovery from anorexia.
Symptoms include hallucinations ft. spiralling weight graphs and magnified body parts; hormonal sparks and blackouts; tearful flash-floods and periods of numbness.
Increased susceptibility to the condition after achieving prescribed weight gain.

Fat. I gue
ss
is not an emotion.
Fat, I gue
ss
is an achievement.

This is the applause my body gives me for hitting my summer weight target?
I suppose, we met it by accident.
Ellie knew it would come eventually, so long as she kept herself up. Strung and dancing to the tugs from fear and her doctors, she knew we’d eventually roll onto this softer ground. Ellie sank her teeth into 53kg, and I felt Anonymous gulp.
I had been distracting her by cramming her with long days at work. Three months melted into a work rota as full as the plates I served her to help her through the shifts. I peppered the evenings with flakes of coursework preparation. I have been hiding from her. Silently stabbing her in the back gently, oh so slowly – with 2 kilos worth of calories.
And now of course, she’s noticed.

So have my jeans.
My bra squeezes shut with my every breath. My mirror gags, giggling at quivering flesh. Mesmerised and horrified by a bulge hanging off my hip or arm, deviously moving independently from anorexia’s framework. Bones are melting under smoother skin.
What was a whole piece of meaty shock has dissolved into shards.
These are small, sharp pieces of feelings I cannot feel entirely. Just a part, never whole.
A stab of guilt is quickly pricked by pride. Panic scrapes slowly down my throat as I swallow yet more food. Anger punctures Hunger, who is no longer listening. It just screams over the pitiful plea for you to stop, Ellie no – you don’t need this meal.
Enough.
Enough, already.

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Dickhead.

Already, I have finished before the end.

I gue
ss,
this is a thick plot. Fat,
or just really full.

So full, I can’t ever understand all of it at once.
To see Recovery is the larger picture of Anonymous, I have to climb out of her skin. On the good days, I can break out of this body of mine and take a long, hard look at anorexia, who is still right there in the mirror. She just has a little more flesh to hide under.
53kg marked Ellie in my mind as finished with; the battle is over.
Now, she can retreat.

Recovery shines a brighter light on all this.
Here is what is clear: 53kg is not a healthy weight.
53kg is still underweight.
53kg will not buy me happiness.
53kg has not banished anorexia.
53kg will not convince my periods to come back.
53kg won’t even bargain for time.
At 53kg, I still have no hormone cycle. 53kg does not have the resources to fortify and protect my bones from the insidious osteoporotic rot sucking strength from my spine.
Bone regeneration peaks at 25 years old in girls, it is said. I have a year in which to convince my periods to come back. I must earn their trust again, convince them I never meant what I said, I’ve changed, it wasn’t you –
it wasn’t even me.
I have a year to flood red and fill empt bones with oestrogen, calcium, strength, resilience, and a commitment to stay.
If I do not leave 53kg for a bigger, better weight, I will always be marked by this illness. Anorexia will haunt me in my bones. Ellie would never be able to do the things she loved again: surfing, running, climbing.

53kg isn’t safe.
I need to keep moving,
but I’m just so tired.
So, fat
I gue
ss.
Shhhh.

The other side effects of gaining weight in recovery have been more pronounced of late too, because they’ve had more energy to play with.
The weight itself is completely unstable. One hour up, the next plummeting down: retaining water then passing it out. The average human’s weight fluctuates by a kilo in either direction throughout the day, and I am just getting my first taste of this reality. It does not go down well with my anxiety, that’s for sure.
Submerged under so much flesh, I am completely, totally, overwhelmed.
I am so washed out by all this change, I even ended up in A&E after a particularly violent reminder of how evil an eating disorder can be.
That’s all there is to say there.
But then – something has changed. Somewhere in the pit of my stomach, I am digesting the world differently. More slowly, is it? With less dread and apprehension, perhaps? It is as if my muscles are remembering how to trust again. This in itself is a work of magic. It conjures up momentary pockets of unconditional joy.

The secret power that comes with weight restoration has made my skin thicker. I’ve been able to push anorexia to her limits recently. I was finally able to eat some of my Mum’s best fish pie: ft butter and milk and lots of fluffy white potato. Butter itself is buttering me up on a shop bought sandwich.
No wonder I’m exhausted. Look how many times I’ve fought, and won. 70677236_1246509155529146_1893285042218598400_n

Fat, I gue ss, is Anonymous.
A nameless, faceless and intangible fiend.
Why must I fight what isn’t there?

There Is Choice

Trigger Warning: I’m sorry everyone, but this is about self harm. Please be careful.

Away.
Hands pressed flat against the wall, feet apart. Brow bent and braced against the clarity of seeing stars. The urge bulges out from between gritted teeth, escaping in a groan.
It’s coming. The wall is coming –
away.

In the space between myself and the wall, there is choice.
I can never really see it until it dies with the crunch of flesh against plaster. Spinning vision and spiralling thoughts churn up ghosts of dead choices from the pit of my sickening stomach. They are written on the wall in scuff marks.
Ellie is numb to the violence. She watches my limbs arrange themselves and invite the wall to slam against my head, barely raising her voice to warn me of the hell that will engulf the days – weeks – afterwards.

The wall isn’t friendly.
It never comes at me trying to help, it waits for me to go to it.
It is normally grey, or beige, or desert wind. Something neutral, blank, unprovocative. Neither one side of sane or the other: just the line of separation that anorexia is tipping over.

You need to push off.
You won’t be falling backwards. You’ll just be pulling away from a backwards trajectory, backwards.
I might fall into an angry storm, panic sparking at jittering limbs, electric. But I might also break the grip of incarceration. I might buy time for Ellie to find another way out, an exit that isn’t a dead end.

Push it away. That’s what my doctor has asked me to do.
When the monster backs me into the wall, when Anonymous is ready to brand bruises of her ownership across my head, push. Her.
Away.
Say it. Away!
Out I say.
Out, I pray.

There is the choice to push.
Push through the plate.
Push out into the world.
Push away the wall.

There are some things the anorexia pushes too far; things she should never have been pushing in the first place.
My health is one. For a disease so allergic to becoming fat or stupid, her decision to hurl my precious head against the wall and slaughter brain cells in their sleep is staggering. I literally stagger away with it.
People, are another. I am trying to push back against the wall of silence anorexia built around her den. On my days off, there is choice. To let Ellie out for exercise and chase an anorexic routine, or do something different with another person, something equally as tiring.
Ellie is retracing the steps Anorexia took to really push people, even considering rejoining instagram. On her terms of course. I refuse to live behind a screen, when I am working so hard to bring down walls.

Everything tries to hurt, until it chooses not to. The effort is exhausting. The effort, also hurts.
I didn’t choose to hurt myself, just like I didn’t choose osteoporosis, or anorexia. I never chose to inhabit a vacant body; I just needed to get out of my head for a bit.
But in the Now, there is choice.
Even that fact, hurts.

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I’ll Swim

Anorexia survives in small spaces.
The gap in a fork’s prong; an air bubble on stagnant water. The space between the second hand and the clock face: time held just slightly apart, dragging itself through the motions.
I have explored this enclosure, sustained by the promise that one day Ellie will work it out. The escape route: food, fun, and recovery. I will fill this space and burst into the next.
Needless to say, weight gain is a work in progress. When my exams finished, I was faced with a choice. I could explore summer a little: that lonely epoch, that blank slate. Or I could hold my breath, nestle into Anonymous arms, and wait for it to be over. Choosing to try summer on for size was a decision made in desperation: acting on an instinct to remove the threat of boredom.
It was the best decision I have made in my recovery. Summer still doesn’t quite fit: it is too loose, too over-excited; but it complements me. In summer, I have managed to rearrange my limbs, and melt into spaces Anorexia never knew existed.

First, Ellie took me to Manchester.
This is a big place, which my illness managed to make small when she forced me out of university. I sunk under the weight of it all. This time, I returned to swim – and to shut the door behind me.
There were so many versions of myself etched into the pavement. Here, where this happened. Over there, where – do you remember -? The city still carried traces of Ellie occupying so much space.
I waded through the memories with the support of my friend. Without her, I think I would have sunk without trace. She even had me to stay in her student house, not too far from my old one. They all smell the same. It was high ceilinged and decorated with fairy lights. It was cosy: it was a version of the university experience I’ve never had, and grieve for.
Anonymous promised we’d never go back, but I am so glad Ellie did. She can grieve properly now. The image is straight in my mind. I can see clearly what was taken away from me by the illness that won’t let me go, the one that never wanted to let me out of it’s small space.
I also know that I still couldn’t be there. Bitter regret always singed my tongue when I talk of how I was forced into moving university to be closer to my treatment. I now know why it was necessary. Even five years on, I am too little to swim against the great tide of that great city.
The next time I go back, I won’t even be fighting it. I shall ride the waves, my weight carrying me over high waters.

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Enter a caption

After Manchester and various fluctuations of mood around my flat, there was the scary space.

This was a square room: white, scrubbed, rigged with wires. This was a square room with white walls, somewhere outside of my comfort zone: or any zone I could call my own. This was a space that did not belong to me. It did not recognise or understand why I should have to enter it, but enter I did. A bitter capsule of time was crushed and swallowed in pieces; hour after hour washed down with desperate gulps for air, water – news. We stored ourselves in a waiting room, jumping each time my phone sprang to life. Even the screen’s white light horrified me: how dare it shine so bright, yet refuse to share any comfort?
It took four days for the space to close up around us, like a flower at twilight. Every word from the doctors was like petals enveloping us, escorting us out of that space through a door made out of miracles.
I chose to enter in so I could help the person who was trapped there. That was me.
There was room for anorexia in that scary space, but she lingered in the mouth of the doorway. She had never dealt with anything like this before: she didn’t know how to starve off what she could only witness. She watched another illness grip someone else, and had nothing comforting to say. Anonymous entered that unknown space, and adapted to it. I prepared food for my family and bought sustenance in the form of books and newspapers. All I wanted to do was help. It was instinct, a hunger that was beyond even anorexia’s reach.
When it was over, I held my head up high and told my clinician I had coped. Even when my hunger cues were wracked with anxiety and driven away by dread, Ellie forced me to eat as if it were just another day in recovery. The anguish and fear came when the storm had passed. Now out of the scary space, I had to unblock bits of myself slowly. Tears and uncontrollable visions flooded into the days that followed. Of course I blocked them out: I can’t look straight at a problem, if all I can see is my own anorexic shadow.

I haven’t been strong enough to go on a family holiday in over four years. It is a struggle to even break out of the short radius around my flat, let alone commit to a long car journey or flight. I am confined to a routine in a small space: Anonymous self-preservation. Anorexia was never given much chance to consent to a holiday: we tricked her into letting me out for a bit by constructing a plan lovely based on my normal day-to-day routine. I could still lead a restrictive life by the sea.
So I hopped on a train to join my family for a break in Cornwall: my happy place.
I was afraid of this space, because it had no structure. Holidays are meant to be blissful chunks of time: oozing from hour to hour, minutes left out on the beach for the tide to claim. The beauty of a small space is it’s predictability, around which Anonymous can arrange my limbs to frame a meal plan and exercise quota. On holiday, it is rumoured that no such routine can exist.
Mum and Dad made the holiday space comfortable for me. I could come and go, and do what I needed to do. I even squeezed in doing what I wanted to do: I scrunched my toes in the sand. I stood on a headland and listened to the murmuring sea below. I shut my eyes, and remembered all the good times we had had here as a family. The ghosts of previous holidays lingered in various cafes on the beach; they rode the waves on an 8ft surfboard – whilst all my little osteoporotic shell could do was stand by and watch. This wide open space: a holiday; a break – the rolling sea – was heart wrenching. I left it in that open space, still beating, and would like to return to find it again.
Being away inspired Ellie to think for herself, and not rely on anorexic machinations to get through the day. Anonymous was conscious this might lead me to being greedy, so I did spend a lot of time thinking and planning my food. I got through four days eating exactly as I should: no more, no less.

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Slices of heaven

Calorie wise, I did not break my limits. But the actual food bulged over the rim of what I ever thought possible. I was eager to eat the moules Mum made: because we were by the sea. They won’t have been half as calorific as the meal I had planned.
I drank not one, not two, but three glasses of ice cold, crisp white wine. It may have substituted my snacks, but it made Ellie feel very happy. Giggly, even.

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Nothing beats the first sip

Going on holiday broke the routine holding my in place; and I spilled out, flooded with possibility. There was so much of me: so many thoughts so many unmade memories.66879381_2894858577222267_8745554541467926528_n.jpg

Other times, I have been pushed into vast open spaces. My clinician has set me “radically open experiments” to try and challenge the otherwise set belief that I am a terrible person. The first is to refrain from apologising for 4 consecutive hours at work. (Carnage.)
The second was one I set myself: a summer project. After losing yet another opportunity to anorexia – my dream internship for a style magazine – I knew I needed to use my summer in some way to edge closer to a career, when all this is over. I resolved to set up my own style blog, an activity that challenges only Ellie’s social insecurities, rather than anorexic red lines. I have covered each story with footsteps and snacks: perfectly balancing exercise and food to maintain a peaceful ceasefire whilst I do my work. It is not a sustainable space, because if I am only able to harvest stories when anorexia says so, one day I will run out of them. Until then, this is a useful exercise. By approaching people in a crowd, I am asserting myself in my own space. Anchored amongst drops in an ocean.

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Bite me, critical self.

After every push over an anorexic limit, I always have to retreat back into my own reality. Gazing up at the uphill battle with my weight.
I have been waiting to feel it. My thighs breathing on each other, grazing their rippling lips closer and closer. My arms drooping, and grow wings that would never fly. My cheeks oozing over the rim of my eyelids. I would throb, swollen, and unmoving.
The only thing I have felt, was the unmoving. The static paralysis of waiting to be called. Despite all Ellie’s alleged effort: an extra snack ever single day – my weight has not budged. My body still fits into this limited life: but my mind is trapped here. Pacing this small existence, looking for a way to break out.
These small movements between places has opened my eyes if not my mouth. There is too much of me to keep in this small, anorexic pen. Anonymous rode the waves, anchoring my weight firmly in place. But this space is starting to feel more and more as if it were built on sand.

One day, I will simply have to swim.

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Oh and by the way, I ate a Pret baguette. That was pretty scary too.

4000 kcal

20 days have passed since Ellie told my Self we needed to start gaining weight again. The 200kcal increase had a violent birth on the first day, and has since been a hard act to follow – no matter how hard I push.

I should have consumed an extra 4000kcal over the last 20 days.
One 200kcal snack with my morning coffee, everyday. Any bar – a TREK bar; a KIND bar: a bar set at a reasonably low limit to entice myself back onto the path to weight restoration.
The scales in the clinic do not measure determination or promises. They only monitor numbers: and my number was just short of exactly the same as it had been the day I received the news that Anonymous had scavenged what little there was left of my spine, and made my osteoporosis worse.
The number retold my tale of 20 days in the wilderness. I was being lured back onto an anorexic track, without even realising it.

I did some maths, and calculated how many extra calories extra I had really eaten. 2305kcal; without factoring in all those little anorexic discretions Ellie turned a blind eye to. We can’t really blame her: self-destruction isn’t a pretty sight. Osteoporosis has a haunted by disasters that haven’t happened yet. With a crumbling skeleton, there is no structure to hold disorder in place.
It felt safer to let Anonymous pass through every now and then, and do the tough stuff when anorexia was already full of extra exercise, or chewing over a plan.
It means my 4000kcal bar has been shaved down to 2305; plus restrictions.
This is not enough to earn back my weight.
This will never bargain back my periods.
2305 kcal is a story full of holes, just like my bones.

This is harder than I remember.
But I will soon remember this struggle too. A couple of million calories down the line, when my weight is restored and my mind reinstated, I will reform the memory of this time and be grateful for it.
This will be the period that ate into anorexia, burying her bones 200 kcal at a time.

T – 200 kcal

I saw some light.
I need to put on weight. Fast.
If I don’t, it will all become real.

My body is playing dead.
I was confined with an extremity of myself I still don’t understand; but the only way I can run away from it, is to listen to it.
I can still hear that frightened cry: begging my periods to come back.
Please come back: I need you. With your magic hormonal formula to protect my bones, with your warm cycle of predictability my body can rejoin, and orbit – on track.

The shock of my worsening osteoporosis, even after putting on all this weight and drinking all that milk, was traumatising. My mind colonised those porous bones and began haunting my spine with symptoms. I spent three days carrying myself like porcelain, carefully turning my body instead of my head, sinking to my knees instead of bending over. Alone in my flat, these worries solidified into certainty that my spine had already crumbled.
The back pain I’m experiencing since receiving the news was not inflicted directly by osteoporosis, but anxiety. Flying on panic, my muscles have been wracked up to a height and stiffened – petrified. It hurts to sit, it hurts to lie down. Bed has been a torture cell, and the days a torment.

Ellie somehow hatched a rational plan of action amid the chaos.
Science says if I eat an extra 500kcal a day everyday for a week, I should gain 0.5kg in a week. Now, that science is scary. Big – out of control; and I can’t trust it.
So, I am taking a bit of science, as a taster. In the flickering light of what has happened recently, I have decided to eat an extra 200 kcal with my morning snack – without restrictions. I need to see what happens.
I need to see if my body really does love me unconditionally.

Yesterday, I took the first step. I worked my way through a KIND Dark Chocolate and Sea Salt nut bar: 197 kcal of gluey chocolate, almonds crunching like bones. An extra 197 kcal of protein and minerals; an extra 197 kcal to kick my metabolism into action. 197 kcal closer to getting my periods back.

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Stocked up on ammunition

That afternoon, I felt guilt sink to join it in the pit of my stomach. Food preparation was a slow process, a grim negotiation that had me shave only 20 kcal off my afternoon snack. The day passed, the summit melted.
Today was harder. Feeling like I was already failing, clutching a 135kcal snack instead of a ~200kcal one, I confronted a Nakd bar. If Mum and Dad hadn’t been there, I don’t think I would even have opened the wrapper. Anonymous was there at the table, gritting her teeth. Anorexia’s gaze is crushing, but I broke it.
An hour later, it felt good. The intensity of the moment had diffused, and I could think clearly about why I need to eat, why I need to put on weight. It’s the first thing Anorexia casts her shadow over: the threat closest to the ground on which she treads.
So yes: two days in, and struggling.
But struggling into the next day nonetheless.

The back pain I’m experiencing since receiving the news was not inflicted directly by osteoporosis, but anxiety. Flying on panic, my muscles have been wracked up to a height and stiffened – petrified. It hurts to sit, it hurts to lie down. Bed has been a torture cell, and the days a torment.

Tomorrow, I will remember this:
Which is scarier, Ellie:
An extra 200kcal today?
Or losing your bones to osteoporosis; and your mind to the inevitable, excruciating regret?

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As anxiety inducing as discovering chocolate dressed up as an avocado