At the times when I wonder if L could have got better at home without going into hospital, I just need a full day with her to remind me. She needs to eat three meals and three snacks. At the unit, it is Breakfast at 8, Morning Snack at 11, Lunch at 12.30, afternoon Snack at 4, Tea at 6 and Evening Snacks at 8 and then 9. This may not seem like much, but this is how it plays out on a Saturday.
I wake up about 8. I am sleepy and still dizzy and sick from the ear infection. I make tea. L is still asleep. Perhaps I should wake her to get up, but I want her to sleep. She wakes around 9 and has a shower. We get breakfast together at 9.45. I chop fruit and yogurt for me. I need to be vigilant around L. I notice she has forgotten to pour out her drink. I remind her and her face darkens. She looks tearful. I try to eat my breakfast as slowly as possible, but no one eats slower than an anorexic. L eats her toast in exactly the same way each time, breaking off a piece and breaking it into smaller pieces then eating each one slowly. After breakfast we talk. L cries. As usual, Ed is telling her to stop, that she is fine now. I try to reason with L and speak to her, not Ed. I tell her she is building strength, for a future, that she needs to be more selfish and think about herself not others. I make her laugh by telling her she can go out and order chocolate cheesecake, eat all of it and think how healthy she is. That she needs to change from worrying about everyone else to being the kind of teenager that tells her father “Quit the whining and self pity and go out and buy me some bloody cake”. She laughs at this for a while and I hear her giggling still when I go back to the kitchen.
All this takes time. It is now after 11. L wants to go out to Westonbirt Arboretum. I rush round Saturday chores, washing, cleaning and thinking about meals for later. At 12.30, I call L for morning snack, aware that in her head this is lunch time. She eats it and cleans the living room for me. We head out at 1.15 and arrive at Westonbirt at 2. I tell C we need to have lunch before going for a walk. He reacts with irritation saying we are pushed for time. I think, which bit of “L has an eating disorder and needs to eat meals” are you missing here? I say he can do what he likes, but we are having lunch, in a light voice, which has an edge to it, warning him this is the last word on this. We enter a busy cafe. There is not much of a queue, so we need to think quickly. L orders a salad owl, but I get to fill it with pasta, pine nuts and a bean salad. I insist she has a juice drink and shares a cake for dessert. J eats a burger, in a few seconds and then all of a cake.
We go for a walk. It is just beautiful. L and I discover a huge area covered by trees, the kind of cathedral size den children love to find. L runs around in it and laughs spontaneously. We take photos of each other against autumn leaves and walk on the stepping stone paths through the woods, to the consternation of the small children using them. L is happy, properly happy. On the way back to the car, she reminds me of C’s warnings that we haven’t time for lunch, it will soon be dark. It is still perfectly light, but we tease him mercilessly asking if he has a torch to find his way to the car. We think this is hilarious and even C laughs.
We get home before 5. L has her afternoon snack. It is a bagel, her first in months. She eats it by the fire that C lights. She looks really happy. We decide on mushroom risotto for tea. But I am exhausted. Going out was lovely, but I am paying for it. The viral infection has not gone away and I am completely worn out. C offers to cook and I agree, but forget that he just doesn’t see the need to get meals ready for certain times. It takes him ages to cook and my efforts to speed things up are rejected. It is 8 by the time we eat and L is really anxious. We are two hours behind a schedule and she still has two snacks left. We agree she will have hot chocolate and toast at bedtime as a double snack.
As the evening goes on, her anxiety increases. I see her knitting, but her face looks more and more pained. I suggest we change her plan and try eat some toast now. She shakes her head. I make the snack around 11. She gets through it, but she is shaking and twisting her hands around. We sit on the sofa and I ask her to tell me what’s wrong. She can hardly speak. I tell her just to say the words in her head. She points to her body and words come out slowly. Just. Want. All. To. Melt. Away. Her hands are twisting uncontrollably and her breath is uneven. I know what is happening. She has had a good day and because of that, Ed, just like the abusive ex boyfriend he is, hammers her door in late at night, screaming at her that she is fat, greedy lazy and disgusting. I check this with her, are these the words she is hearing. She nods, tears spilling down her cheek.
I know that if I tell her not to listen, that she is not fat, it will be pointless. So I start by just holding her. We stretch out on the sofa, I wrap both arms around her and put her head on my chest and fold my legs over hers. I talk quietly and calmly and tell her over and over again that this is the anorexic voice and it will pass. It is both not real and real. It is not real because it is not true and there is no voice, but the fact that she hears is it is as real as the symptom of any illness, as much as a cough is a symptom of flu. I tell her to listen to my voice and I just keep talking. I put my hands on her legs and tell her these are long slender legs and they are stronger, not fatter. These are the legs that will take her to the top of Macchu Piccu when she is older. I put my flat hand on her stomach. This is not fat, I say, this is you. Inside here are your organs, getting stronger and making you better, from the girl who was at serious medical risk before. This is the stomach that will bear children for you in the future. There needs to be more of you, not less. And because you had a good day, Ed is fighting back. But we will fight back too. We are stronger.
We lie there for a long time. I tell her I won’t leave and if she wants me to sleep in her room, I will. Her breathing calms and she becomes sleepy. As do I. Eventually she goes to bed and is ok on her own. And this morning, we wake up and do it all over again. It is 10am. She has just woken. Off we go.