When I first developed an eating disorder, I slowly restricted my diet but continued to run. My job is relatively active, so my weight started to decline. My first round of treatment taught me to keep to a regime of regular meals and snacks. After I was discharged, I was still wary of fat, protein and carbs, but I used exercise as much as food restriction as a mechanism to invoke hunger. The twisty little beast in my head had learned to use running to compensate, although, admittedly, I also kept my food intake low between breakfast and tea. By the time I was admitted to Ascot House, I was just exercising and exercising and exercising, largely jogging, until hunger-weakness flowered in my chest, down into my stomach and up into my shoulders.
By the end, I was only able to muster the slowest, drifting stroll, indistinguishable from walking except for the fact that my legs were more bent, which I hoped gave other joggers the faint impression of hurry, or an attitude of hurry. When going uphill, I became more and more bent over like a little old person with a curved osteoporotic spine, my head almost touching my knees, the flesh on my arms, on my cheeks, sagging loose. I kept having to remind myself to straighten up. It felt like wading through a lake. I’m not sure, therefore, how many calories I was burning off, but I appeared to be running up a deficit, because my weight was going down.
As my BMI dropped off the end of the NHS scale, it dawned on me that I could have a heart attack, but, in the grip of this disease, you will take any risks to indulge your compulsions. My only concession was to bring my phone, but I became sensitive to the strange tenderness in my chest: a sort of painless ache or strain; a pervasive, breathless, exhausted murmur against the effort of it all, that is luxuriantly absent if I covered the same distance at a walk.
Walking or running, though, I felt the weakness in my legs. They were thin and veiny. My thighs didn’t meet, even if I squeezed them together, and each bend clearly enunciated and delineated individual muscles in the slim sheath clothing my bones, my thinning skin.
This seemed less ominous than the sensation in my chest. There was a looseness, a ticklish tremor, a tiny shiver, almost just a blush of sensitivity that crept into the muscle tissue, between the joints, the ball and socket. It testified to low blood sugar, I think: a job well done.
And I was seeking, seeking the hunger, yearning for it, hunting for it; feeling down inside myself for those pangs, conjuring them up, drawing them up, feeling my stomach clinging to my spine like a wet shirt; hunger-weakness pulling me backwards like lines pulling back a harness on my chest, threatening to fold up my legs. But I was too robust. Phillip says I want to make myself disappear, become a ghost.
In the week before I was admitted, two people strode past me. They were moving briskly, but, still, they were definitely walking, and I was definitely jogging!