It has been a long, hard winter. A winter of restriction and of desperation; a winter where I returned to starvation because I thought – yet again – I had found the answer in my own diminishment, where I strove for a painful state of perfect. The winter was concrete grey. Flat.
And now, we live in a strange locked away world where fear is everyone’s and nobody knows when it will end. Outside – where we’re barely allowed to go – doesn’t know this. Outside, it is spring. I can hear lawnmowers and birds. One day has that sharp, sweet scent that only accompanies the very first days of the season, the next I am able to detect that it is sweeter; less sharp, as though the season is settling. The Sun comes out, briefly at first, and then shines altogether so that we can unlock the conservatory doors and I can take my socks off, warming my feet against the leather of a beanbag whilst I crochet.
And, with the arrival of spring has come a fight. A fight against a virus, but also a fight I didn’t know I had inside me. A fight that I had presumed lost, or as good as pointless.
A fight that I had forgotten, numbed into stasis by false belief.
It is strange that I mirror the spring. Strange but fitting all the same.
That I have begun to fight is, I am reassured, imperceptible to the outsider looking in at the body I fear so much. But I am not an outsider: I am a conquerer and I am reclaiming my body as my own.
Like pokey crocus heads in reverse, I notice my hips bones disappearing back into soft flesh; my stomach become rounder, my tummy button less hooded by strained, taut muscle. I can walk up the stairs without aching. I’m not going to lie, I hate it. I cannot live with myself. I hate my body. I hate myself. I am embarrassed to be in my own skin. But, at the same time, I realise that that has to be the answer. I realise that I have to embrace those feelings and hold onto them, because I have to cling to the knowledge that these feelings are wrong and foreign, and I have to understand that they are happening because I am ill. I have to hold the belief because otherwise I will forget again; otherwise there will be no fight left. I have to hold onto the understanding that it is an illness that makes me feel this way.
I must realise that I am different, but must also realise that I am the same. I am not fat: I am anorexic. As much as I wish to break free of the constraints of that label, first I must embrace it. To untie myself, I must first accept that the knot is there, then I must believe that I am able to loosen it.
The problem has been that I have been far too deep in the anorexia. I have been hoodwinked by its guile. It has twisted itself around my brain and I have – hook, line and sinker – marched to its tune: I have come to believe that I am fat; I am fat; I am fat, when – of course – what I need to believe is that I am anorexic.
And, so, I take little risks. Biscuits. Cake. Crisps. Semi-skimmed milk in my tea. The anxiety mounts as I continue with these forays into the unknown, but the anxiety was always going to mount. If anything – and if there is one – now is a good time to be anxious because, for the first time ever, people understand what it means: how it feels.
I know I must push through it but it is hard because I know that, if I am going to win this time, I cannot stop: I must keep going. I know that there is to be no turning back, no compromising with the illness. It must be a decision echoed by my future self. And the future – as it is to all of us – is a terrifying place.
So I do the most radical thing that I can: my therapist is leaving anyway, but I discharge myself. It is painful and scary and I wonder every day whether I have done the right thing, but I also know that I have to be my own hero; I have to save myself because nothing else works. Sometimes, talking won’t help. This time, it has to be about action.
I go back to basics and I embrace what I know to be good: crocheting, audiobooks, real paper books, jigsaws, conversations. All of these things need concentration to enjoy, and concentration requires a mind not dulled by lack of sustenance. I know that these things will unfurl me; will allow me to wake up and appreciate the feel of the sun and the smell of the spring, and they do.
It is not surprising – or maybe, if you have never been here, it is surprising – how dulled one becomes through hunger. It is as though whole seasons have not existed – have been ignored – in my pursuit of thinness. For me, it is always the seasons. I love nature: I find that, every time I return from the depths of my own mind, it is what urges me to keep going.
The language of nature thrills me: I think about heucheras and aquilegias and let the words sit in my head. This is distraction at its finest. This is where my head needs to be: far away from calories and fat contents. I wonder where persicaria got its name and what makes it such a pleasing word to say. I sit with persicaria for a long time: it sounds like a journey. Sisyrinchium, a character from Dickens. The thoughts are pointless – absolutely pointless – but it helps.
The point, however, remains that this will not be a quick fix. I will not wake up cured. I will probably not always even be able to remain in this space of lucidity. There will be further periods of concrete grey restriction and of times when I disconnect myself from the world – the beautiful world – to retreat into thinness.
But, for the moment, I am here.
And that’s OK.