Don’t think we sit in the garden all day, in wicker bath chairs, under tartan blankets, whining. There is a fair amount of whining, but just being here is a struggle, from the moment you wake until the moment you go to sleep.
We’re not ungrateful. Everyone here has reached a crisis point (although we would probably deny this), but so have thousands of other people in Britain. Beat, the eating disorders charity, reckons there are 1.25 million people in Britain with an eating disorder. Ascot House, with proven record of success, and a warm and supportive atmosphere, has only 10 beds. We are incredibly lucky to be here, paid for by the creaking, foundering NHS, and we know it.
This puts us under enormous pressure not to squander the opportunity, to embrace it, to make the most of… rise to …challenge… get to grips… grapple… struggle… urgent…necessary… constantly. Constantly.
We know this. We do try. We do. But we don’t feel it, and we don’t want it. We do it out of a sense of duty.
Finding yourself abandoned in this foreign place, among strange faces, makes you constantly aware of the seriousness of your condition, and of the necessity of the struggle: every morning when you wake, a guest in an unfamiliar bedroom, and you ask yourself, “what am I doing here?”, you must answer, “because I have an eating disorder that is trying to kill me”. When you ask yourself, “How the hell can I get out of here?”, the answer comes back, “by defeating it”, because the alternative, discharging yourself, creeping back into its scabrous, sinewy, outstretched arms, is even less inviting, more exhausting. For me, at least. Jo has given me an ultimatum, after all.
Not for all of us, though. Some of my comrades resist and resist recovery, especially at mealtimes. They sit, hunched and miserable over bowls of soup, stirring and stirring them until they are unpalatably cold. They rush from the table: plates of abandoned food sit sadly steaming in front of empty chairs. Cath, one of my particular friends, turns to me and the creature is occupying her features. It speaks with her voice and says, “they can’t seriously expect me to eat this, can they?” And I smile with non-committal sympathy and squeeze her hand and think, “I recognise you, hypocrite lecteur! – mon semblable, -mon frere!”