It seems ironic (although, in fact, it’s perfectly logical) that an obsession with accounting for ourselves and our place in the world through effortful work, should land us in an institution where we weren’t allowed to do anything at all. It was an enormous relief to be forced to down tools at last. It was also alarming. we felt undefended, as if someone had tied our hands so we couldn’t ward off blows we knew were coming. At the same time, it felt horribly stifling because our reassuring food-denial and exercise compulsions were being constantly thwarted. (Added to this, the house was literally stifling, due to the windows all being tight shut, and a phantom thermostat-resetter who kept turning the heating up when no-one was looking)
It’s very difficult to convince yourself that doing nothing is now your job, that the hard work is psychological and internal. Perversely, this encouraged us to ham up our symptoms to persuade ourselves that we deserved to be there, or to comfort ourselves that our enforced idleness was necessary. You will remember me telling you how, when I entered Ascot House, I had little problem with eating once I was committed to it. In fact, being so hungry, I always relished it. My problem, at home, was that I didn’t allow myself to eat quite enough, or often enough, for all the exercise I did.
After the first meal, at Ascot House, looking around at all my miserable comrades, sitting there listlessly stirring their soup until it was cold and unappetising, obsessively deconstructing their sandwiches, then reluctantly, picking at each article with fastidious, beautifully painted nails, so as not to soil their fingertips with food, I felt like a complete fraud. From then on, I made sure to appear just as unhappy as everyone else and played with my food with the best of them. No doubt this alarmed them just as much as they did me, and made them feel just as fraudulent.