Meals and snacks are the most challenging parts of our day. There’s incessant questioning and over-thinking. When you eat, you are surrendering, luxuriously, to your hunger. This is a terrible failure. After all, you’ve spent years resisting hunger, but now it is your duty to yourself and to everyone that you deduce you love, and who claims (incredibly) to love you, to force yourself to give in to your appetites: force yourself to give in – in that phrase is all the self-contradictory, stereophonic double-think of this condition, the yabbering of many voices. With an internal dialogue like this, it’s no wonder we seem dazed.
Eating is expected (why else are you here?), so it’s not your fault if you do, but what if you enjoy it? Oh, the terrible deliciousness of it: vegetable curry, chicken kebabs, sweet potato tagine! We eat turned away from each other, our hands up to our faces to hide our struggling, ecstatic, horrified expressions. Each meal ends with someone, having grimly done their duty, crawling, sobbing, from the table. You find them curled up on the sofa with their eyes closed, seeking unconsciousness, the relief of mental shutdown.
Half asleep with a loaded gun
In a room with a light-bulb sun
The therapy and workshops also keep drawing your attention back to the purpose of being here, the seriousness of the condition you’ve invited on yourself, the embarrassment and shame of it; the difficulty and yet absolute necessity of constant vigilance, of constantly challenging all its symptoms, its behaviours and tics. You’re supposed to scrutinise and challenge every suspect thought and assumption, and the constant supervision, and the rules, interrupt your relaxing, restricting compulsions. You are unable to bed yourself in to comfortable routines that allow you to abandon judgement and analysis in favour of their soothing rhythms.
Because we share rooms, we are never alone to recuperate from all of this, to brood, from the moment we wake to the moment we escape into sleep, our only solitude. I find socialising very hard work at the best of times. I feel the strain in even the simplest exchange and I’m always desperate to get out of them. I’m also hyper-aware of, and sensitive to, the imagined scrutiny of my housemates, whose good-will I rely on. It’s exhausting.
Every morning I fight my way out of a panicked sleep, too early and very alert, grateful to be awake. I’m driven to rise by a sort of anguish, yet actually getting out of bed, swinging my legs over the side, is daunting: everything that follows is too significant, too fraught, too dangerous, and, by evening, when I go back to bed, I realise I’ve been feeling catastrophically anxious for hours, by which I mean I’ve been anticipating some undefined catastrophe.
And all this takes place against an unchanging, apparently endless progression of days. Days pass, weekends tick over. It feels overwhelming, when you remember how life continues at home and at work, progressing, diverging from you. You know you’ll return as a stranger.
On Sunday evenings, everybody feels glum. Another week, struggling with terrifying nothings, looms ahead of us: boredom, bewilderment and unfocussed, formless distress.
This may explain the agitation.