I collect L at 7, after supper and ED group. I raced home for this, on a day when travel anywhere was difficult due to flooding and severe weather. She seems nervous and tired, I find out that she is not sleeping well. As we drive to IKEA, she tells me about another patient who has reached Stage 4, which requires a BMI of 19 plus. I ask L how she looks, at a BMI which seems enormous to her. But she mumbles a reply, which says something like “Much better than me”. She looks genuinely upset.
I park the car and take both her hands. I tell her to tell me what it is that makes her think the other girl is so much better than her. She cannot point to anything, it is just her sense of inadequacy. I look at her, her dark, long, shiny hair, her flawless skin with a smattering of freckles like nutmeg and her beautiful eyes. How can I convince her how pretty and wonderful she is. Yes, I know looks don’t matter, but she is genuinely lovely. And kind. And clever. And funny.
We go into the store. We have a set route. I make L try all the armchairs as we may buy a new one. We choose a desk. We spend ages choosing material for my sewing projects. We pore over baking equipment and crockery. L teases me about my “nice bowl” obsession. she is jumpy and keeps dancing from foot to foot. I ask why she can’t keep still – I have been reading an Around The Dinner Table thread about compulsive exercise. Is this what it is? I know anorexia can mutate and change, so far exercise has not been a huge problem for us. But then I remember that her medication may well make her jumpy. She tells me she is anxious and she gives examples of some of her irrational fears. I hug her and tell her she is safe. It strikes me as we walk around IKEA, how much we hug and hold hands. This must seem pretty lame to other teenagers. I hug her in lighting and she leads me in a waltz around the lightbulbs, with both of us laughing.
Then the cafe. It isn’t as bad as it could be. L chooses chocolate truffle cake. While it looks delicious, it is also the smallest option. She nibbles and licks each tiny forkful, but eventually it is gone. She has tea with it – this seems less disordered than the last time we went out. After the cafe we head down the travelator and I grab her hand and make her run down really fast. She shrieks and laughs, but we run all the way to the bottom. Sometimes we need to shake ourselves up, to clear out the claustrophobic anorexia.
I push her around on the flat bed trolley. She makes wheel movements with her arms and covers her eyes with her hands when we see a staff member. We have been told off for this before, but tonight it seems we are invisible. We pay for our items and leave and I drive back to the unit. She thanks me for the evening out. We laugh about our big night at IKEA. But in the war zone against anorexia, the brief spells of normality, the times when we do what we used to; these are moments set in diamonds, which sustain us and prepare us for the next time. I kiss her good bye, and drive home, smiling and happy.