I’m putting a content warning here. As always, there are no numbers: no weights, no calories, no clothes sizes etc. But I am talking a bit about fear/safe foods and anorexia behaviours.
Anorexia is weird.
It makes up its own bizarre rules and ideas and fixations. Every time I have been unwell I’ve had some strange rules that I have to abide by. I’ve had some weird phases where I’d go weeks with only eating certain things. Sweet chilli Jacob’s crackers and Granny Smiths. Snack a Jacks and tinned mackerel. Pickled onions and satsumas. At my very worst last year, I ate only fresh fruit and vegetables. No hot food, no wet food. Nothing I couldn’t eat out of a bowl, and nothing I couldn’t eat with my fingers.
When I started treatment, I had a phone call the week before. Actually, I had three phone calls, one after the other.
“Hi Cara, I’m Jess. I’m calling from DSP (day support programme) to get your menu choices for when you start next week. Here are your options.”
I picked my options.
“Hi Cara, it’s me again. I forgot to mention you need to pick pudding for two of those days, which will be yoghurts. Here are your options.”
I picked my options.
“Hi Cara. Sorry I forgot to mention that on your third day we will be having Christmas dinner.”
I gritted my teeth through the first call. Almost all of my meal plan was milk due to the risk of refeeding syndrome, so solid food was at a minimum. I hadn’t touched milk for months and I was petrified by drinking so many calories. The second phone call, where I had to pick desserts, left me all over the place. WET FOOD? I can’t possibly eat any wet food. The third phone call left me in bits. Fluid calories, then wet food, then a fucking Christmas dinner? HOT FOOD? I thought I was going to lose my mind. You might be wondering why it mattered if the food was hot or cold, or wet or dry, and I wish I could give you an answer but I can’t. Anorexia makes no sense. Before I stopped eating yoghurt altogether, I could only eat it out the freezer. For around two months I’d eat yoghurt I’d frozen, but not out of the fridge, before I stopped eating it at all. There’s no rhyme or reason to that – the calories don’t change. It’s just a stupid illness with stupid rules.
Over the last few months in day patient, I’ve gone in every day and eaten things I couldn’t even have dreamt of. Bread, cheese, pasta. Chocolate, biscuits, ice cream. I have never had an ‘incomplete’ – a meal I have started but not finished, of which I am only allowed three. I have finished everything that has been put in front of me, and a large part of that is because I’ve felt like while I’m in treatment, I have permission to eat these things.
Last week, eight weeks before my discharge, I got told day patient is closed for 12 weeks. What does that mean for me? Who knows to be honest. I don’t. They don’t.
All I know is things changed overnight and I suddenly felt like I had absolutely no control over anything in my life. I felt anxious, uncertain and isolated. There could not be a better combination of feelings for anorexia to thrive in. I went from a full meal plan to cutting down drastically. I ramped up my compulsive walking. Thankfully I didn’t have access to and have moved past a lot of other behaviours I had going, but that didn’t mean I was free.
Which brings me to today. Today, four months into treatment, I cried over a yoghurt. And not just a couple of tears, great big sobs. A fucking yoghurt. And then I cried even more, because I’m so fed up of my life being like this. Because I just want to be normal and I don’t know if I ever will be. Because all I want, more than anything, is to be free from this demon, and it feels like something that just won’t ever happen to me. Flashback to the 16th December, my first day in treatment, when I was faced with two teaspoons worth of yoghurt in a glass dish that I can only liken to being presented with a ramekin of poison. I really hoped, by the time I was approaching discharge, that those feelings would have gone, but they haven’t. They are dormant sometimes – there are days where I am clearly just more resilient – and I can eat to my meal plan tantrum-free. But every now and again that guilt and anxiety and panic bubbles up like a volcano and explodes into a million thoughts of how fat and awful and greedy and terrible I am. It’s hard to feel like you deserve a yoghurt when you hate yourself.
This journey is a minefield, and one of the main benefits of documenting it – both publicly through writing and privately through journalling – is that it serves as a reminder to never put myself through this again. Anorexia is hard, but recovery is harder.
One day, I hope to pick up a yoghurt because I want one, and to enjoy it without a second thought. But until that day comes, I eat the yoghurt anyway.
One spoonful at a time.