When I am Better, Who Will I Be?

It is L’s Review tomorrow – her fourth. After her GCSE exam in Biology, that is. And before her dental check up on Weds. Which is before her Return to School Interview. Both of those are before her Physics and Chemistry GCSEs on Thursday and Friday. As weeks go, this a week best described by K’s new expression -‘a clusterfuck of awful’.

Tonight I talked to her about where we go from here. Everything feels pivotal. We have circled around Stage 3 for what seems like months,but is weeks. I am reminded of J as a small child, desperately wanting to go down a ‘death slide’, but being too scared. so he sat at the top, growing unhappier and more frustrated. Too afraid to jump, but too drawn by the attraction not to jump. Stuck in a non-place, being pulled both ways and going nowhere.

The problem with recovery is that it is an unknown place. Lesotho is a country I know nothing about. Trying to urge L to arrive at a recovered place is like telling her to go to Lesotho. She might hear a description of how wonderful it is, but she doesn’t really know. The safer option is to stay in her own town, where she isn’t that happy, but at least she knows what the misery feels like. It is known misery, safe misery. She has experienced it, measured and counted it.

So tonight, I tried an experiment. By each side of the fireplace there are two chairs, one old, one new. I ask her to sit in the old chair and tell me what she feels, what it is like there and why it is safe. I ask her to think what it will be like in a years time, still sitting there. She describes being safe and almost happy, but knowing that she is still often sad. Then she sits in the new chair. This is scary. In this chair, she is bigger. She has to eat. In this chair she has to weigh a certain weight. I ask her to show me with her hands how big she will be if she gains the 4 or 5 kg required. Huge – she spreads her arms out. She cannot think beyond what her size or weight will be. In both chairs, her whole existence is defined by a weight, by food and yet she knows there is so much more.

We sit on the sofa and I reflect back to her how all I have heard is weight size and food. That she is either big or little. Neither are words which have any relevance to her, from where I sit. To me she is tall, slender, kind, thoughtful, considerate, strong, determined, clever, funny, resourceful, analytical, understanding, problem solving, long-limbed, scientific, creative, musical, driven, hard-working, insightful, articulate, stubborn, timid, fearful of hurting people, opinionated, bossy, pale, dark-haired, affectionate, obsessive, musical and really beautiful. How have her horizons shrunk to big or little, eating or restricting, thin or fat?

The reality is, the future can be what L makes it, once she recovers, and there is no reason why it can’t start now. We make plans to start Yoga together and I agree to help her design a leaflet to post locally advertising babysitting services. Too often I tell her that finding a job or exercise must wait until she is ‘better’ but perhaps her new life has to start now or it will forever be another country, like Narnia after the door in the wardrobe closed.

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2 responses to “When I am Better, Who Will I Be?

  1. You write so beautifully about something which has plagued me for years. You are so articulate and put it better than I ever could. The fear of climbing out of the whole overwhelms the sadness within it.

    Personally whenever getting close to full recovery, something inside me clings on to the anorexia, it is safe, comforting, and reliable. Without my anorexia how would I define myself? Who would I be? But far more importantly, how would I express myself? How would I cope with all the emotions and feelings waiting for me in the world? Having anorexia is wrapping yourself up in bubble wrap, you get zoned out, numbed by all the hunger, the starvation, the focus, it means you don’t have to deal with life or living.

    But at some point L needs to make the choice to live a real life, rather than a half life. She needs to step out into the sun, rather than hide in the shadows. Have you or her talked about what it is that her anorexia is still giving her? I remember something about it in a previous post, thinking about those things always helps me.

    I am confident that with your help L will become brave and strong enough to face the world. For me, anorexia shuts off my feelings, I can’t get hurt or feel sad or angry. But at the same time, I can’t feel happiness or anything else positive. It’s not worth it.

  2. Hi, I’ve never commented, but have been reading about your family’s battle with anorexia for a few months now. I’ve suffered on and off for the last 9 years of my life, and right now things are tough, but this post made me think. It made me re-evaluate what i’m holding on to, and where I need to go from here. I’m sorry that you are all struggling with this, but thank you for providing a different insight. It’s been invaluable to me. Love and light and hope xxxx

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