At the beginning of the year, L asked if she could go to a friend’s 18th birthday weekend. I had some reservations; her friend is a new friend, made in her eating disorders unit. We are advised against such friendships, but I also see how lonely L is and how hard for her other friends to understand. So I say yes, on one condition – that she is at Stage 4 and must therefore have a BMI of 19.
This is back in January – the weekend is in the second half of April. Eight weeks after our ‘deal’ L is no closer to this weight. She has flatlined for the last four months. I remind her of our deal and she protests that this is so unfair. I have neither the energy nor the inclination to argue. Yes, this is all so unfair. Once upon a time we measured worth by help around the house, good grades at school, a lack of fighting between siblings and by now I expected the measures to have moved to being home on time, rewards for exam revision or as compensation for broken hearts. But anorexia has robbed us of all that. Life is measured in grammes, which go up and down with the regularity of a pendulum and remain for no longer than a wave on a shore, disappearing as soon as they arrive.
Life should be so much more than this, yet I have all but forgotten how it was and have ceased imagining how it could be. It hurts too much, you see. I know we have so many things for which we are grateful, but the drip, drip, drip grief of a life lived under anorexia wears us all away slowly but surely. I am deeply sad, nearly all of the time. I am close to tears in a heartbeat. I have no energy and no enthusiasm. And other things are not easy either, I am struggling with work issues, which are frustrating and exhausting and there is a point in each day when I think, I am done, I have nothing left. I just want to sleep and wake up in a different world, where anorexia has gone forever.
I know it is not about me and I know anorexia is not my fault. I am not frustrated by L and I physically ache for her to be well. Nor is this a cry of despair, or an essay in self pity. It is the unvarnished truth of what it is like to care for someone with an eating disorder, while also trying to work, manage depression and mother L’s brother and sister. This isn’t a bad day or a good day, it is just a day like any other. One where you realise how slow this is and how it may never end. Where giving up is never an option, but where hope feels like a betrayal, a sugar rush of emotion which will only leave you feeling worse. It is a numb day where all feelings seem absent.
In time, the bareness of these feelings will be varnished over. Platitudes and cheeriness will disguise and conceal the numbness. Both L and I will laugh about anorexia and there will be small gains to brighten a day. She may gain a few hundred grammes this week or eat a fear food. Our targets are low, because we are wiser now. Older, more tired but wiser.
I will not go back on the deal with L. She could still do it. She will rage and complain but I will be stony and unyielding. The calamity of anorexia has made me harder hearted too .