My image of anorexia as a bad news, controlling boyfriend called Ed has been written about before. If I was asked to say something positive about Ed, and had to do this to make L eat, I would say he is unfailingly loyal. He is there for her through thick or thin. As she picks her way through life, his familiar feeling of control and safety can always be summoned, any time and any place.
In many ways, L’s life has changed a great deal. She is at college, grappling with A Levels, in love with The Boyfriend, making new friends and most recently working as a Christmas temp. Everything she wanted from her new anorexia free life is in place. Her job, her relationship and she is studying for a future life as a doctor. But Ed is there too. He isn’t put off by her falling in love, by her new interests or her future career. There is nothing she can do which will put him off her. Except eat, of course. And she does eat. Her carefully selected porridge and blueberries, cinnamon popcorn, meals at home, snacks which are carefully Instagrammed and shared with her people. Shared with a community where everyone claps each other on the back for eating cereal bars or lovingly lit meals, tagged #recovery. Really? Because normal eating isn’t like this. Yes, I post pictures of cake or pavlova, but daily photos of porridge? This is a community where obsessive eaters huddle together for a false sense of normality, of pretending that they are completely on the way to recovery, but the thing is, no one posts pictures of the vomit left in a shower or of their mother and sister hugging each other and weeping at how thin they are.
Over the last week, we have stood back and let L make the choices. In her new life where it is more difficult to supervise every meal and snack, we decided to let her make choices. Not as a one off, exasperation induced flounce away, but as a calm response. We have tried everything else and perhaps, with her new life tempting her to leave Ed behind, it might have worked. But each week for six weeks, her weight has dropped. To the point where readmission to the unit is being considered. We have discussions about this; L nods and agrees and carries on chopping apples and making blueberry porridge. Today we go to CAMHS and discover she has lost another 1.3kg. There is the usual polite resigned nodding and smiling. We agree twice weekly sessions, one of which will be a home visit or a cafe trip. Because as I tell them, if talking cured anorexia L would be miles away from this illness. The reality is, nothing is strong enough for her to tell Ed to go. She feels safe in her thinness, she is calmed and comforted by her re-emerging bones. None of us can begin to understand. We have to get the gloves back on, or her new life will be snatched away before it has even begun.