Dylan is from Port Talbot where his mother owns an independent garden centre. Theirs is a hard-working family and the expectation for Dylan and his 3 siblings was that, after school, they would get jobs, settle down and start saving towards a mortgage. Dylan hasn’t done this, which he and I suspect is a contributing factor in the development of his condition. He went to college after his GCSEs and studied drama. Since then he’s worked as a barman.
We are VERY different. Dylan is 20; I was already 27 on the day he was born, and so am easily old enough to be his father! He’s not interested in politics or the news or travel. He’s never been abroad, or even to London. Most importantly, he doesn’t read any printed material, although I suspect he has a greater facility for it than I do. I recently said to him, “you should read a book. It’s good for the brain” He said – “No it isn’t. It makes you infertile”.
He’s quick-witted, and his madcap humour, when he’s in the mood, is one of the things that endears him to me. I recently showed him how to sew badges onto his skin-tight jeans. Marie, one of the care-assistants caught sight of this and asked, incredulously, “where did you learn to sew?!” Dylan said, “Xan taught me”. “But where did he learn to sew?”, she asked. “I taught him”, Dylan replied. Funny Boy.
Because he never reads, Dylan is ready for more serious conversations when we’re lying in bed. I resented this at first, because I’d hoped this would be a quiet, recuperative reading time after another day of communal living, with all its head-ache-inducing chatter. I now recognise that this period keeps our friendship healthy, and it is vital that we continue to get on. This is when we have our most successful conversations about our condition. We compare our experiences and support each other. It feels very healing and sustaining and must aid our recovery immeasurably.
Despite our differences, our experiences of anorexia are very similar. We both began by eating healthily and ended by taking it too far. Like me, his eating disorder is partly a distorted extension of the work ethic we inherited from our families. Both of us felt our mortal thinness was won through the hardest of hard work at a time when we didn’t feel we were very effective or useful members of society. Losing weight was a tangible, measurable success, and we didn’t feel we were experiencing much of that. What we’d achieved was harder to discern. Perhaps, in some way, it was a successful expression of our inner state of mind.
Dylan was hospitalised before being transferred directly to Ascot House. He’d eaten pasta bolognese with his mum on Friday, and then, because he felt he’d eaten too much, he hadn’t eaten anything until he was admitted to hospital on Sunday. This felt, in our confused terms, like an achievement, and, secretly, I envied and admired his commitment. He recently showed me a selfie he’d taken days before arriving here. He’d delayed showing me because he was worried about how I’d take it. This was patronising but wise, because I felt humbled by how magnificently shit he looked: grey skinned and impossibly emaciated. It made me feel disappointed in myself, and inadequate. I was never that bad: his distress signalling is way better than mine.
Then, of course, I questioned my commitment and my right to be here. Was I just a fraud, an attention-seeker, taking up a valuable bed? Was I just pretending?