It's that time of year, kids- Eating Disorder Awareness Week. I'll let you off for not knowing; I didn't even know it was a time of year myself, until my first year of college, where the place covered its walls in photos that were, ironically, photoshopped of Ana Carolina Reston, making her look even more emaciated than she was before her Anorexic death. There were a fair few of the pro-Ana faves also dotted about, Kate Moss and Posh and a million other underweight but not necessarily eating disordered starlets. It was really aware and not at all triggering, pahaha. I'm obviously not at all secretive about my battle, it's not something I'm proud of but it's not at all something I think I ought to be ashamed of. Rather, it is what is and I'm doing what I can. Being on an eating disorder ward during this though, I feel like I ought to give a more, I don't know, real time portrait of life on this sort of ward.
In that spirit, I started to blog earlier. But what I feel in between food times (and there are a few times when we're not eating, even on this ward) is a million miles from what I feel when faced with food and in its aftermath. I stopped my earlier effort, and decided instead that I'd be open in a way that writing when I'm feeling positive because I'm away from food doesn't allow me to be. Not that I lie when I write during those times, not at all, its more than the strength of the disease, the volume of its screams, are less the further I feel from food. Coupled with the fact that I'm not usually in a writing mood immediately after eating, you don't get the same kind of imagery. So this might be different from my other writings, or maybe it'll be the same. Maybe the relative power of the voice of the disorder also affects my writing, or maybe I'm the same writer, the same person, when it's at its height as when it seems more distant.
OK, after that long explanation, picture the scene now. It's about half an hour since we stopped eating, bit less since the post-food fag time that we smokers share. Our unit is very small for what it is; there are five of us in-patients and one day-patient, and all but one of us are sat together. The lights are dimmed because one girl isn't feeling well, and a film is on the tele because we agreed, in our smokers corner, that this time of day drags. Two of the girls are asleep, curled on either side of the sofa opposite me, like cats. Alex is asleep on one end of the sofa to the right of me, and another girl is on her laptop on the other end of it. I'm sitting in an armchair similar to the ones in the Big Brother diary room, paying little attention to the DVD that I requested. This is rest, an hour following each meal where we, well, rest. We tend to take that idea of rest a touch further, most of us, by seeking solace in sleep, a ritual as central to escapism from the kitchen as having the post-food fag.
The mood is slow and lazy. Mealtimes are dramatic, albeit in an outwardly quiet way. We don't shout and scream, if we cry then we cry quietly, but we're all fighting a loud inner battle and each slow mouthful is evidence of this, each pause whilst we square up to our plate showing the shell shock the war has left us with. After the stress and drama of meals, rest comes like the falling off of the mountain that is each meal and we all retreat back into ourselves. During meals, we are one. We're all fighting slightly different battles- no two eating disorders are the same, as much as similar BMIs might make two Anorexics look- but we mutter encouragement at our neighbours, words that we could never say to ourselves, and have more empathy for the battle we just can't understand in the girl next to us, than for the battle we know too well, of our own lives. How can Alex struggle so much when she's so obviously brilliant and beautiful? Why can't she see herself- the hilarious songwriter; the talented musician; the one who will hold you tight when you feel like, and even hope that, the war will count you as one of its fallen, even when she's got through a meal she never thought she could herself; the girl who you know you'll be friends with even when you're not living together, and who you're constantly damn grateful for- as she so clearly is?
We know the others don't hate us as we hate ourselves, or we'd have been beaten physically by them as we do mentally to ourselves, and we all pour all of our love outwards, maybe partly as a thanks for that. We're one, in that our love is collective around the table. That's not to say that in rest we're not also there for each other, you'll usually find at least somebody laying on somebody else and somebody else being massaged by another. It's more that during rest we shut off to a point, meals make us vulnerable and in rest the front must come back up; we have to, to protect ourselves. Kitchen escapism.
Rest has just finished and we've all dispersed. How are we between meals and snacks and rest periods? We're like everybody else. We have Anorexia. We are not Anorexia. We laugh at bad jokes, we do stupid stuff. I seem to spend at least an hour a day dancing madly to Alex's hilarious song writing talents mentioned previously. To quote Mr. Magorium, 'We breathe. We pulse. We regenerate. Our hearts beat. Our minds create. Our souls ingest.' Maybe that's where awareness this year should fall.