I'm sitting in a high-ceilinged apartment in Berlin with a cup of tea and my laptop, my boyfriend lying on the bed reading, interrupting me now and then with talk of where we might go and eat tomorrow night, our last evening here before we fly back to England. We ate at a restaurant last night, too, and have done so almost every night we've been here. It's a holiday, after all, and we're treating ourselves.
I still get overcome with how miraculous it is: the repeated miracle of eating with other people, at a normal time of day, and of having eaten thus for days and weeks and months now. It still feels unreal because for ten years it was unthinkable: eating was what I did secretly, all alone in the dead of night, meticulously planned yet unchangingly, after yet another almost endless day of starvation.
My life as it is now felt absolutely impossible less than a year ago. How to go from planning the whole of your day and your life around the single longed-for meal towards dawn, to just eating when you're hungry, or when it's an ordinary ‘meal time', and then getting on with something more important, or interesting? Eating was the point of living, of getting through the next interminably long day; precisely because it was so special it had to be waited for, heightened by the waiting, made more and more perfect by the hunger that would grow deeper and deeper so that nothing else mattered.
This meant that changing – living a ‘normal' life – was something that I not only believed I could never do: I believed I could never want to do it, ever. Why on earth would I want to give up the magnificent, all-eclipsing pleasure of my nightly meal of bread and boiled vegetables and chocolate on my own in bed for the ‘pleasures' other people claimed to find in other things? It was completely implausible that anything could replace that ecstasy of sucking a great mouth-filling lump of milk chocolate and then falling asleep a little before sunrise (in winter, at least).
This is why I want to write this blog: because for so long, and with increasing conviction, I was so sure that I didn't want to be ‘better', as everyone always seemed to assume I must. I could see all the things that were wrong with how I was living, of course; I wasn't stupid. But they couldn't see all the things that were right about it, and unrelinquishable. I read all the anorexia self-help books, with case-studies of girls who got better and looked back on their old lives with the marvelling incomprehension of someone who's come back from the dead. But I always thought I was different. (The belief in being the exception to the rule is dangerously common, in anorexia and recovery; I explore it here.)
I knew, from the other parts of those books, that I had all the unglamorous symptoms the other girls had, and indulged in the same warped behaviours (who'd have thought all we anorexics would want masses of salt on absolutely everything?), but I kept on thinking that with me it was something more special, or at least something redeemed by the things it let me be: thin (so my difference from everyone else was unmissable), hard-working (nothing and no one else in my life to keep me from reading and writing), safe, untouchable.
And now I've become one of those girls back from the dead, and I marvel at how I even survived all those years of starvation, yet alone persuaded myself I was happier that way. I want to trace that weirdly rapid journey (embarked on less than a year ago) from not being able to imagine doing all this to being unable to imagine doing any of that any more. I want to write so that others might be able to understand better how someone with anorexia gets trapped in it. I want to write this so that if you have anorexia now, you might have a glimpse into the way things can change.
For me, it was a little war of attrition: gradually, over the years, enough things amassed that made staying the way I was seem less possible, until the constellation of chance and will power and deathly tiredness was at last enough to make me change. Maybe this blog will be one of those additions to the tally of reasons for you.
I stopped eating properly when I was 16; it was easy, cutting out breakfast and beginning to lie about other meals. I got steadily thinner, and at my lowest ebb, I felt I was nothing any more but anorexia. Now I'm 27, I'm at a weight that's healthy for me, (have developed ‘assets' my boyfriend certainly appreciates,) and I have the glorious sense of certainty that I'll never do any of that again. Why the hell would I?
In this blog I'll chart the progress of the illness and the progress of the recovery from it. It's an interesting thing, anorexia, from all sorts of points of view: the personal, the social, the medical, the philosophical. It seems to be becoming more and more prevalent, yet it's so little understood. Maybe this blog will help clear the haze a little.
But I have to stop for now; it's time for lunch.