I nearly dropped the phone and fell to the ground tearing my hair out, because this was exactly the same place, and the same Eating Disorder specialist, that I used to see! The sense of despair, of retrogression, of being right back where I’d started, with the whole exhausting, horrifically difficult, grinding task still to do, was almost overwhelming. I hated it! Abi saved my life and I love her character and attitude to the world, and admired her immensely, but this meant I hated her disapproval; I hated being badgered by her about my weight, trying to squirm out of admitting how emotionally uncommitted to recovery I really was. I hated North Eastern Road House. I hated exhausting myself getting to the station, the awful train journey; the mendacious promises I made, the journey back. And, it hadn’t worked. Surely my present predicament proved that? Sisyphus, Sisyphus, Sisyphus!
“Oh great!” I replied, weakly, “I know Abi of old”. “Yes, I know!”, said the duty manager, happily, “so she’ll know all about you!” I pictured her waiting for me with a grim look of disappointment…
I took this call on the last day of term at the school I work in. I had to reel straight into a staff Leaving Do, without time to digest what I had just been told. Schools have a high turn-over of staff, so there are always a number of leavers, but taking the temperature of the room, they tend to keep their leaving speeches short. The problem is those old warhorses, who have been at school for 30 years. They want to bear witness to a lifetime spent serving the school, rather than just saying goodbye. They start their speeches with “When I joined the school in 1950…” and use phrases like “That was in the old maths block…” and “it was just me and Geoff Whiteman, who taught maths, but you won’t remember him…”
This year we had two. The first stood up and delivered the full English breakfast: all the people he referred to had long since left, and all the incidents he referred to were long since passed. At one point, during an anecdote about his high blood pressure, he said: “So I walked down to the surgery; you know, trousers, jacket, shirt…” He actually told us what he was wearing! He told us the name he gave his old Morris Minor before embarking on a series of rambling accounts of tenuous links various other members of staff have with the village where he grew up (“but I’m digressing…”)
The second guy was no better: another interminable, rambling reminiscence, while I grew more and more tense. I was desperate to get home, go for a calming run, brood, and talk to Jo about this development. My stomach was becoming so knotted that it seemed to be climbing up my chest. I thought I’d end up chewing on it, frantically.
By the time the 2nd guy had ground to a halt, I was so overwrought I was almost weeping with frustration, so when my lovely deputy boss gave me a lovely warm hug, I actually burst into tears! This was very embarrassing – people started milling around, getting in the way and the wrong end of the stick, giving unhelpful advice. A friend of Jo’s phoned her and told her I’d collapsed, leading to a very flustered phone call! It was all very touching but also harassing.
In retrospect, I guess I was rather proud of myself for having relapsed. Jo’s alarm, along with the danger signals of lack of sleep, exhaustion, dizziness, falling over, made me feel I was achieving something. It confirmed to me, again, that I was genuinely ill and messed up, rather than self-indulgently making a fuss about nothing. Thus I was hoping that being off the bottom of the NHS Choices BMI scale would indicate that I was properly flirting with danger. The duty manager letting slip that I was not morbidly thin, and the sense of almost travelling back in time to a grey and awful, lonely past; of having lost all the ground I’d gained, punctured that inflated sense of importance I’d developed. I’m a tiresome malingerer demanding attention from a horribly over-stretched NHS. I’m not even properly ill, but I’ll still have to start gurning through great gollops of awful, stomach-aching stodge in order to gain weight. The reality of what it was actually like dawned on me…