Life carries on at its own pace, whether we like it or not. Despite the overwhelming urge to stay in bed forever, the day ends, the night passes sleeplessly and the day begins again. And again.
I am not the only one feeling like this. A close friend is ill, not just with a chest infection that never leaves, but with the familiar signs of stress. She is working too hard, she is anxious and feels increasingly isolated. As always, these are symptoms best diagnosed from a distance. I tell her she is on the Hamster Wheel of Doom. In my mental health medical dictionary, written by me, this is different from the Invisible Rock of Despair. The Hamster Wheel makes you think that if you run faster, harder or longer, then the anxiety will stop and you will eventually arrive at the longed for place of Being Better. You don’t. You just drop, sometimes never to get up again. I used to watch our hamster sadly, seeing how he ran furiously around, and then would get off and look around as if expecting to be in a new, more exciting place. Then he would climb back on, and spin and spin, getting off, looking around, then back on the wheel. When he died, we got a cat. If you want the ultimate role model in stress avoidance, get a cat. They sleep, eat, crap in someone else’s back yard and the biggest challenge they face is in finding out precisely which is the most comfortable spot in the sun.
L’s world continues to spin around and around. She is now back at school, her exams start soon and she is losing weight. I sat with a calendar and plotted her weight loss, which, if unabated, will bring her back to the weight at which she was admitted as an inpatient around September, perhaps October. I am so heavily medicated I am not sure if I even feel sad. The prospect of two different Autumns loom: one where L hurries off to 6th Form College, with new bag, wearing her funky 6th form clothes, plugged in to her iPod; or one where we drive her back to the unit, with her duvet, her photos and Hattie the Cat, where we visit each evening to play Bananagrams and ask her how she is. Again. To be her parent is to be Cassandra, to see the truth, but not to be believed. I cannot tell her that this path she is taking goes back to where we have just been. But from where I observe, it is all too clear.
I wish I could pull L out of herself, to observe her own actions. I wish we could sit at the top of a grassy hillside in the sun and watch her life from afar, so she could see how controlled by anorexia she is. I long to take her on a Dickens style Ghost of Anorexia Past, Present and Future, so she could watch herself, not from within her own head, but from outside. Life as a parent of an anorexic is like a series of mini bereavements when you realise this isn’t going away, that the happy ending isn’t going to happen and that those feelings you call your worst fears aren’t fears, but chillingly accurate predictions. Worst of all is the realisation that love doesn’t cure this, it doesn’t make it better. If I were given the option of a bargain with the devil where L would get truly properly better, but she would no longer love me, I would take it, because to see her live the life she deserves would be worth it.
But there are no Faustian deals on offer. Nor will prayer or pleading help. She needs food, but resists and controls at every turn. We carry on, turning slowly around on our anorexic hamster wheel, going nowhere but onwards and backwards. Round and round, down and down.