The Sin of Onan (metaphorically speaking!)

Anyway, Anorexia is a solitary vice – You suffer alone. Lying awake in the dark while everyone else is asleep; rising before dawn to stumble through the empty streets; haunting the darkened kitchen in the early morning; struggling with, obsessing over, enormous trivialities that nobody else understands; struck down by terrors that nobody else can see; dozing through everyone else’s much more significant dramas: this is, conceptually, hoarding the self. Perhaps I’m still seeing myself in individual terms and thus tugging against the pull of the collective identity.

Jo recognises this, and, I think, resents it as a rejection. The desire to be solitary is disloyal and ungrateful. I’m incredibly lucky and honoured that I’ve been welcomed into such a loving and supportive unit. It is so sustaining to be allowed to involve myself in the busy lives of these three people. I should just allow myself to be the absorbed into the group. There is no advantage to my miserable singularity, no greater reward, and absolutely no greater virtue, yet an irrational part of me seems to resist the warm embrace, feebly, nonsensically.

Being sent to Ascot House was a necessary part of my treatment, but it allowed me to indulge this errant individualism. In fact, it demanded it. Suddenly, I was living alone among total strangers, thrown back on my own resources. We were actively encouraged to navel-gaze, to analyse our own drives and ideas, to enter the secret chamber and do battle with the demon: a silent, internal struggle.

There was also the difficulty of sharing, and how you needed to withdraw into a sort of hastily constructed panic room, deep inside yourself, to avoid being completely smothered.

At home, I’d been subsiding into a sort of complacent anorexic dotage. Admittedly, it was swept by confused alarms of struggle and flight, during the day, but in the evening, when I allowed myself to eat properly, I’d doze in comfortable satiety watching Master-chef or Bake Off, sitting beside Jo, all cosy. This is what I’d been aiming for all day and I felt very close to her.

However, when I phoned Jo on the evening of my first day in Ascot House, she revealed the unhappiness and distress she’d been supressing throughout this time, how alarming and upsetting it had been to witness my obsessive, volatile and irascible fears, and the emotional impact it was having on Meggie and Daniel.

Having delivered me into the safekeeping of Ascot House, Jo felt relieved of responsibility and could finally speak openly. And bitterly. She cried. She told me that she wasn’t sure our relationship would survive. She told me that she’d made an explicit decision not to care, because that was the only way she could cope, and she needed to stay strong for the children. She told me that her friends had been advising her to leave me, to protect the children.

I hadn’t expected this, because I hadn’t been thinking about the situation from that point of view. I think anorexics tend to under-estimate their impact on other people. It seemed a bit of an over-reaction to take me that seriously. Who would be upset by little me, muttering petulantly, in the corner? What did she care? She should just ignore me.

We anorexics also lack the energy to experience emotion with any intensity, other than anxiety, (which is more of a way of experiencing than the experience itself) so it’s difficult for us to attribute these feelings to other people. I could imagine being literally in Jo’s chair, looking back at me, but lacked the imagination to invest that image with any emotion.

But I wasn’t surprised, either. You don’t have the mental capacity to form fully realised expectations when you’re starving. Things just happen to you and you accept them. I thought, “this is no more than I deserve”, and I almost felt glad of it: being punished felt right. It felt just.

That’s another of anorexia’s benefits: it really does boost your resilience. The blows land, but they don’t appear to do any further damage beyond what you’ve already done to yourself. If someone says, “You’re a useless little shit, who’s ruining everybody’s life, with your antics”, you’ll just nod sadly and say, “Amen to that. Don’t I know it. Why do you think I’m punishing myself like this?” It’s grist to your self-hatred mill. The energy of every angry comment is absorbed by, and used to fuel, your own self-hatred. You are invincible.

The phone reception at Ascot House was dreadful and kept cutting out, so our conversations became brief 5 minute collages of fragments before we’d both give up. Jo’s job is always very intense, so, on Saturdays, she’d drop the children off at their drama club, then burn up the motorway to Ascot House, which took her over an hour. Then she’d only be able to spend around 45 minutes with me, before having to head for home to pick up the kids and work all afternoon.

This all left me feeling even more isolated. My society had shrunk to myself, alone. So toxic had I become, that the only people whose company I could tolerate without distress and excruciating shame, needed, for their own self-preservation, to cut me out. I was left teetering, reliant on my own meagre emotional resources, like a living sculpture on a very narrow plinth.

Ah, Well! Never mind. When I was at university, I’d experienced a strange, depressive episode when I appeared to lose the power to understand speech, but I just hunkered down until it was over. Ever since then I’ve prided myself on my capacity for endurance. When things like this occur, I simply survive, knowing they will, eventually, end. I pull my head and limbs into my shell, like a threatened tortoise, and I wait. That’s what I did now. It’s kind of an appropriate image, because my scrawny old neck stuck out of my shirt collars rather like a tortoise’s.

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