In the pub one December evening in 2014 a friend and I decided it would be a really good idea to sign up for Tough Mudder. We decided it would be fun, it would be a real laugh and a challenge that was totally do-able. We 100% had it in the bag already, after a pint or two I was convinced I could run it right now and with nine months to train. We were gonna smash it. We teamed up and began to raise money for Mind in the process.
I was originally signed up for Tough Mudder in September 2015. However, in early September I found myself stuck in hospital in the middle of nowhere. On section, I wasn’t allowed to leave and there was no leeway for negotiation. I deferred my entry until May 2016 with the assumption that I would be better and have had enough recovery time to focus on training again.
Some new meds, some disruptions and some turbulence later I was admitted on section in April 2015. This meant that again, I couldn’t go. This time, ashamed and disappointed I retreated into the distance. I went quiet. Overcoming that admission took a very long time; it had a profound effect on me and when I came home I struggled to even go to the shop on my own. My social worker described what I went through with that admission as a trauma, and no wonder I was overwhelmed. I guess it’s hard to know when everything is so confusing and you don’t understand why you’re stuck on the inside, and everything is a whirlwind of screaming, fighting, restraints and tears.
As a result, I went quiet about all the races I missed during that admission and the money I raised was donated over to Mind regardless. I was upset and felt guilty for having accepted donations and money and having not actually done the challenge I was sponsored for. I also felt guilty asking for a Mind charity place for a third time. So I didn’t. I let it go.
I accepted that I had been too unwell to be able to go to Tough Mudder twice in a row, and for as unfortunate as that was I accepted that it wasn’t my fault. I had to accept that these circumstances had been beyond my control and even though it didn’t feel ok, it was ok. That’s the nature of mental illness right? I put it behind me and focused on getting better, yet it still felt like unfinished business. In my mind, I was going to revisit it and tie the loose end for myself when I was more stable and more well, whenever that may be.
Then December 2016 happened. I had a rocky time with starting uni but during a particularly ambitious patch of behaviour I signed up. I had a touch of realism about me still, thank goodness, and I opted for the half distance. I kept it quiet and only told a close few incase I didn’t do it again.
The date crept up on me and fortunately I had managed to start running regularly again. It became harder to keep it quiet; a tad of excitement, a touch of self realisation that I could do it, and a growing sense of self belief spread the secret out a bit more than I had initially intended.
On the day, Wifey and I travelled to the venue together. She wasn’t running however, said she may consider running one next year? *nudge nudge – that would be a really great idea – hint*. She sat with me during the pre-race nerves and put up with my excessive neediness for affection and reassurance. in the run up to the race. Like the boss of a Wifey that she is, she stood by me right until it was time to go into the warm up pen. At the start line, she waved me off.
This was it. This was the moment that had taken be 1 1/2 years to get to. This was the event that had hung over me for the past 2 1/2 years and I had finally crossed the start line. It seems to be a theme that getting to the start line is the hardest part for me. I was on my own. The tough Mudder mantra is that no one is on their own. The challenge is about comradery and teaming up with people you don’t know. You’re all in this together, you start together and you finish together. However, running a race that most people sign up with for in a group can make running it feel a little bit lonely at times.
I’m no stranger of doing things on my own. I am an only child after all. I’ve been wanting to start running trails lately, so running the off-road terrain was something I really enjoyed, even without music. The constant challenge and excitement of the terrain was enough to keep my mind occupied: the scenery and the challenge of the hills, of which there were plenty was enough. Sometimes the course led us up a hill just for the fun of it to come back down. It’s like a reminder of a lot of what we do in life. Why do we run in big circuits, and climb walls to just come back down again? For the fun of it of course, and the feeling of accomplishment that you can’t get from not climbing the wall or running in a big circuit just for the fun of it.
The obstacles around the course were a good challenge and totally do-able. My favourite was block ness monster; I love water obstacles. It always takes some nerves to dive into a cold pool of muddy stinking water, but afterwards, despite stinking of sewage, you feel great. The other obstacles on the half course included: mud mile, the pyramid scheme, inverted walls, high walls, and the grand finale, Everest 2.0.
Everest 2.0 is one of those obstacles wherein which you have to break down barriers and put your trust in a stranger to haul you over the ledge all after you’ve run up a quarter pipe upon which it is highly likely to end in a royal motherfucker of a face plant. It took a number of attempts and to my surprise, I didn’t land on my face.
Also surprisingly, hanging from someone’s hands whilst straggling legs in all directions in an attempt to get over the ledge is really exhausting. Eventually when I was hauled over I had no strength left in me to help drag anyone over. In fact, i felt positively nauseous. Slowly I climbed down the ladder on the other side to be greeted by Wifey taking my photo and an upheaval of vomit into my mouth.
She ran to the hydration station and got me some water to drink to one of her infamous pep-talks. I could do it. It wasn’t far until the finish line now. I had already covered most of it. I recollected myself. Picked my sorry arse up off the floor and using her words of encouragement began to run again. I wasn’t far now. I was nearly done. I soon saw the finish line, with Wifey running up beside me to take my picture crossing the line.
There’s nothing quite like crossing the finish line of a race or challenge and seeing Wifey’s face beaming at me. I collected my treasured headband that certified I had indeed done a Tough Mudder challenge. I had done it. Two and a half years after I was originally signed up to line up at the start I made it. I crossed it.
Crossing that finish line was more than just a Tough Mudder challenge. It wasn’t just for fun anymore. It was unfinished business as a result of my mental health difficulties. Crossing that finish line signified finishing something I signed up to for myself years ago, and making it to the event and crossing that start line signified a new era of mental health better than I was for a long time. That’s very wordy, I don’t know how to say that in a less wordy or awkward way – I’m not great or at my best, but I am better, and that’s a big fucking deal.
Running Tough Mudder Half, for this reason, was a massive moment for me. It’s a year since I last signed up, and also a year since I was last roaming the corridors of a hospital ward. I’m not always well and I’m not unwell like I was back then. I’m bigger than I was due to medication. I’m slower than I was when I signed up and felt like I had the running world at my feet. I’m not as confident about my strength and abilities, yet I’m more confident than I was a month ago. Finally, thank you to everyone who sponsored me and yes, I finally ran it. I did it. I crossed the line. Loose end tied. I think this story is less about Tough Mudder and more about keeping on keeping on. When life throws you a royal shit storm, grab the hand of your right hand (wo)man and damn well dance, because together you’ve got this. We’ve got this.
When anxiety gets a grip on you it becomes very difficult to reason with the impending doom that feels like you have no choice to think about and feel in response to it. Lately I have been experiencing perhaps one of the worst bouts of anxiety I have had in a very long time. So much so that I am not always containing my anxious thoughts and feelings – and find myself acting on them in retrospectively and admittedly, extreme ways.
Last week my partner didn’t answer the phone. She stopped texting me and through a certain method of steps I took to analyse the situation I became convinced she was dead. So convinced was I that I managed to convince the ambulance service to dispatch an ambulance to her address because it was too late and I lived too far away to get there in time, you know, just incase she was on the brink of death rather than dead. She finally responded, all of 2 hours later to tell me she had fallen asleep. Of course, that makes complete sense. I cancelled the ambulance. Unfortunately, they didn’t receive the message to the vehicle and wound up arriving at her house. The guilt of having used and called an ambulance, perhaps away from another emergency ate me up for days of guilt.
At the time though, there was no reasoning. I was convinced. For the following days I kept getting the thought that she was dead or dying, and needed me – but I was unable to contact her. After a few days of “I’m fine” texts, I have realised this is an irrational anxiety thought so have stopped responding to it. Which means it has gone where? I’m not certain. I think a lot of it I am suppressing, whilst trying to ride out the smallest of the waves of emotion that are coming up for me lately as, I presume, a side effect of the stress I am currently experiencing.
The anxiety has returned to focus on myself since then. I keep getting extremely anxious that people around me are talking about me, laughing at me and judging me to be a walking disgrace. I pretty much scarpered out of uni today as soon as I could in order to escape the lecture room full of people talking about and laughing at me. I thought it was just uni maybe. Maybe I had done something weird and not realised. However, it followed me all the way home to my room where I tried to relax and calm down from the ordeal of having to go out in public when I felt this way.
Cue the weekly fire drill. Normally I am able to ignore the alarm as it sirens throughout the building and my room. It goes off frequently, due to drills and I assume, the bad cooking of my neighbours. Normally I sit through it and it passes. Today though, the siren was piercing and I snapped. I entered into a panic attack of tears running through the building begging them to turn it off. The whole day I had been avoiding using medication to calm myself, but at that point I succumbed to the ease of popping a pill to calm myself down.
I know that lately my baseline is significantly raised due to stress. However, for as many DBT skills that I use I just can’t seem to get it under control. I have the insight. I know what is happening. Some mental health professionals equate this insight into the ability to control it. No, not at all, and to be honest, I am out of answers for dealing with this right now.
I spoke to my care coordinator about it on Friday, but her advice was to accept the emotion is happening and let it run it’s course. I thought I had been doing this already – but I suppose not because my response behaviours are still getting the better of me. I wonder if anyone has mastered their anxiety better than I have mine, what they would say to me about managing it?
How can I not let it get the better of me? How can I realise my response behaviour is not fitting to the situation? How do I reality check without reality checking with my anxious thoughts as a reality? How do I avoid a panic attack without having to take a benzo – because we all know relying on benzos isn’t the answer. Additionally, it is very easy when in a real state of anxiety/panic/upset to take too many because they take a while to kick in and wind up overmedicating.
I don’t know the answers. If you don’t know the answers, but still have suggestions that would be helpful too.
I am dancing a dance on the beam of sanity, dancing between madness and stillness. Losing my balance I wobble, until bam, one foot in front of the other, one step at a time, I am moving forward through time, space and life. The tight rope thins out, and more skill is needed to navigate the way and avoid the fall. The free fall that it would be if I lost my balance, the fall into oblivion and the tumultuous chaos that would ensue and take wrath of my life. I am inching between the life worth living I have so carefully construed for myself, and the life I had – of hospital, madness and hell. I don’t want to go back there, so I’ll pull up my core muscles, twinkle and stretch my toes, in the hope I maintain my balance and move forwards. Even staying still, like prey at the mercy of a merciless predator is better than falling.
If I fall, I have no idea where I will land. In A&E? In my GP’s office? Or in bed, head spinning from an overdose I took because, I’ll admit it, I could not cope. Perhaps I will detach from my entire reality and draw on the walls again. Maybe I’ll hurt myself and get lost again, or maybe, maybe I’ll just curl up in a corner like a cat waiting for death, and hide. Hide from a skewed reality, hide from my mental mess, and wait, just wait for the whirlwind to calm until I can come out a knight in shining armour in my own daily battle. I may wait until I am strong enough to fight these bad bitches, and put them where they belong – to bed. I do not want these fights, but sometimes, they are inevitable and unavoidable – all it takes is a minor slip on the high wire. All it takes is a wrong toe, an uneven breath, to cause the minor slip that leads to a well of hell.
So what can I do about this scenario? I wonder and ponder to myself, pulling out therapy worksheets, and clawing at bits and pieces of CBT, MBT and schema knowledge in order to help maintain myself. I need to connect with my feelings – but where are they? I need to notice what is happening? But there is nothing. I need to be kind to myself and manage only what I can – but what is my limit? So I will focus on what I can do. I can paint my nails. I can go to the gym. I can set small goals – I will make it to this afternoon. I will make it to tomorrow’s class. I will make it to see my friend on friday. I will make it not only because I have to, but because I want to.
If I don’t then we’ll deal with that should it arise, but for now, mini cornerstones are my saviour. Mental grit at it’s best, pushing and shoving through this delicate act of maintaining my sanity. Pushing and shoving to not have a crisis, to not be found and sectioned, or to damage myself. It’s a daily battle on top of the daily grind, it’s a challenge that I will accept, and a dance I’m going to have to learn, master, to show those bad bitches that are my demons just who is in control.
In 2012 I was very much living in the land of mental illness limbo. I had been through a lengthy assessment process in 2011, from which came my initial diagnosis of Dissociative Identity Disorder. In 2012 I was waiting for treatment funding. This led to a second process of assessments, diagnoses, funding panels and then finally, the waiting list for specialist psychotherapy on the NHS.
Throughout these processes I remained as unwell as I had been initially, if not more. I was struggling very much with dissociation, and in fact spent the majority of my time living in a permanent state of dissociation, and experienced frequent crises and admissions during this period of my illness.
For as far as I was concerned I was sharing my mind, body and experience with an angry little girl by the name of “Little Me”. I was possessed. I was consumed. I was under the influence of witchcraft and voodoo.
I wrote about it:
Voodoo to Witchcraft
Getting her face ready the little girl is starting to rear from deep within.
No eyes will ever lay on her bare self,
nor pry her from the darkened depth.
Wiping the droplets of starlets that fall down her skin,
a blackened river carves waves to her chin.
Smeared lipstick and sniffling she’s ready for the show to begin.
A heavy mist of fog descends her entire being:
Suffocating her, she can barely gasp a breath of air in,
intoxicated. Voodoo. It’s time for the hocus pocus show,
her emotions, her pain, her screaming circus in tow.
We’re just little fragmented dolls shattered into a thousand china pieces,
“Don’t listen Little Girl. Don’t listen to what anyone says.
It’s me in you now. We’re gonna dance this tip tap can can
go on raise to it bitch, show me you’re best pirouette en pointe
I’m holding on to every last piece of you, I run this fucking joint!
I’m gonna crank you up to your highest point,
winding your entire self, your entity up to breaking point.”
Before dropping like a bomb, a free fall into oblivion.
I’m blind, help me! I can’t see; this mist, this haziness is holding a firm grip on me.
I know I’m screaming, I know it hurts, but please, please, stop it.
This is gonna be the death of me.
I’m voodoo, I’m honest, I’m not in control of me.
Please, please sir help me stop this disease.
I’m just a limp puppet on Satan’s string,
being thrown back, to, fro and through this hell
I can see no end it’s making me want to send myself dangling,
hanging from a tree with no shame.
Ok please, just lynch me out of this madness, I’m mad, my mind is gone.
No blood, clean snapped, gone dead, deceased.
And finally I’ll be swaying at peace instead of dancing this tip tap hippity hop can can.
We’re just little victims of witchcraft, subject to a hocus pocus set of games.
Take it hard, hold it firm, sweep it over your skin.
“Get your face ready little girl it’s time to start the show
We’re ready, your mine, I’ve got you now
you’re all mine until the storm’s calmed down.
This is my show bitch, now lose that frown,
and laugh bitch, don’t you dare steal it now. Dance!
Stumble around the floor, throw your limbs to my beat
and scream bitch scream, until there’s nothing left in your feet.
Tap them to the rhythm now, what’s wrong, you feeling the heat?
I want to hear your pain but you’re no where near hurting yet;
Your just a fragmented little doll now, shattered into a thousand glistening shards.
Pick it up little girl, you stupid fucking bitch, and glide girl glide, until you’re bleeding a purgatory of your sins;
You’re just a broken little doll and the cracks are starting to show
and out shines all the hatrid, the hatrid from within.
But youre nothing without me; I’m that tiny thin of string, your only thread of hope that’ll show you inside your chest of drawers, your Pandora’s box of remorse…
…for the sins that aren’t even yours.”
“Don’t pop that medication girl, what do you want? To die within? They’re trying to control you, and worse stop me, but you need me girl, you’d be dead without me in your world. So if you have to pop them do it one by one, do it in succession little girly, commit your one sin.”
Unfortunately human nature has it that many of our unfavourable traits and reactions are naturally ingrained, such as that of automatic judgement, and that old line, “never judge a book by its cover” but regardless, we do anyway. We also automatically judge people within seconds of feasting our eyes upon their tatty clothes, hearing their hooty toffee accent or seeing their sickly thin legs from beneath a dress that, once upon a time, used to fit. “God, look at her. That’s not normal.” “That’s disgusting.” and “Ugh, she’s too thin”. Yes, we judge. The fault however, lies within our developed and supposedly domesticated culture in the way in which we express those judgements, or whether we keep a lid on them at all, disallowing them to gain the better of us. Not everyone does.
When I was suffering from my eating disorders, both bulimia and anorexia, I was hyper-aware of my body, those around me, and the perceptions that were going on in regards to my body by those around me. Whether they were happening or not, or a figment of my imagination, I was aware – hyperaware. As a bulimic I was not so obviously unwell; I maintained a healthy weight, and ultimately gained weight. During anorexia however I really discovered the sharp edge of the double standard in regards to commenting upon a person’s weight, publicly, loudly and often times, without a second thought for the person being commented upon: namely myself, and whether I was within earshot or not. “Did you see how skinny she is?” It is OK when commenting on someone who is severely underweight it seems, perfectly acceptable even: however, should the same be said about someone severely overweight, my goodness would the tirades of the curvaceous beauty army come down on said heathen like a ton of bricks from the heavens above. What blasphemy! No. Neither is OK. Body shaming is never OK, however in this instance, apparently it was. Constantly. Throughout my difficulties with anorexia and even when a thought was spared at the cause for said “disgusting appearance”, “she looks anorexic or something” the very infliction making my life hell became an insult, a derogatory comparison because of course, anorexia is just fucking disgusting. Hello mental health stigma in all its glory.
It was one of my many discoveries during my days of anorexia that people feel an explicit right to openly berate someone’s appearance of which they feel is unappealing, unattractive or, for as far as some would like to go, disgusting. Often times there lay no secrecy in the commentary upon my already shattered body image, “Gosh you are thin. You are too thin! Yes, far too thin. You don’t look good.”
Nod and smile.
Nod and smile in the hope that they will run out of things to say on how “too thin” I am: as if I didn’t hate my body enough already.
Another mistake here is also that for someone battling anorexia the ultimate goal is to look as much like the living dead as possible. We envy the images of holocaust victims, of course we do. To an extent this can play a part in many peoples’ disorders, however, there comes a point when regardless of size the loathing for my body was much deeper than skin, ribs and chubby gaunt cheekbones. Every molecule that made me, every cell and every function that I was became a source for despicable loathing. I hated that my body made me feel like shit and look like shit regardless of my weight and for how, no matter how hard I tried not to be, I was always fucking pug ugly. Of course I was, there was no other explanation. In addition to hating my appearance, I hated the way I smiled, laughed on the rare occasion that I did, breathed, slept, thought, was, am, and everything in my whole entire being.
On the psychiatric wards people are most open about providing their unrequested opinion on your eating habits, appearance and just generally how crazy you may, or may not seem to be. Perhaps this is because whilst being locked up on a ward with one another 24/7 they notice that you’re missing from every meal time, hiding in your room and arguing with the nurse about whether or not you need to eat that day, week, or even, ever again. “Oi, Patient, EAT!” the other inmates would shout from across the ward, before turning towards one another, “she never eats. She never speaks either. Can she even speak?” For some people, the common sense that we’re all in a psychiatric ward and that perhaps there is something at play here, such as, oh I don’t know – a mental illness? Of course though even once the words of,
“I have an eating disorder” are fatefully uttered and with many having done the rounds on the wards across London there’s always been worse.
“What are you in for? What did you do?”
“I’m having some issues. How about you?”
“I know you’re having some issues, that’s why we’re all here. I’m depressed, what about you?”
People in psychiatric wards I’ve realised like to know who they’re mixing with. Perhaps it is in the hope that they find someone with a similar difficulty to their own and can talk about it? Sometimes though, I think people are just bored and nosy with the only entertainment, besides a TV stuck on Sky News showing you the world you’re not a part of anymore, each others’ crises and problems.
“I have an eating disorder, and some other stuff going on but I don’t know what it is”
“Oh, well you don’t look too bad. I’ve seen worse. You actually look fine. You look good.”
Maybe she was trying to be nice and that was a version of ‘words of encouragement’. After all, I didn’t look 100% like death, but feeling the need to comment on my appearance always got me. Eating disorders are about more than what you see at face value. In fact there are people on eating disorder inpatient wards right now who were admitted at a non-emaciated weight: some even at a healthy weight, because an eating disorder is more deep-rooted and problematic than how “too thin” someone appears to be, in your personal opinion.
My main issue with all of this though is that people, strangers to be precise, feel they have the right to holler at someone to eat because they find it strange. Or provide you with their opinion of how disgusting they think you look because your arms are perhaps too twig-like, or your knees far too knobbly for comfort their own aesthetical comfort.
Everyone’s heartfelt right to comment upon my body made me feel the more self-conscious about my shape, size and how much I didn’t fit in. It only served to exacerbate how awkward I felt. Feeling misplaced, confused and distorting my already skewed perceptions of myself in relation to the world around me because losing weight felt good; but looking ill didn’t. Not eating felt comforting; but being gawked at wasn’t – and once the anorexia took over every ounce of control I ever had in relation to my eating, when I really began to look unwell, I really at that time had no choice in whether or not I ate that day anymore and the open commentary from strangers only fuelled my inner hate and disgust that really were major players behind the real causes of the eating disorder.
[Further Familial Response]
Everyones family is eccentric. We all have the one who here or there, this or that, we the normal ones, pull fun at and joke about when said family pain in the ass is either out of earshot, or usually hard of hearing. The way they peer at you from behind jam-jar glasses with enlarged gawping eyes, or the way they have us in stitches at the ‘mad shit’ they say. Sometimes it can be the younger ones and how they’re a joker from the word ‘go’, or the teenagers and laughing at the expense of their irrational moods, and door slamming stroppiness. To an extent, none of this could really be deemed eccentricity because we all have them, that one, that two. Some families are made of them, full of them. We also all have interwoven lies and secrets between webs of whispers that warrant a glance here and a facial expression there. It’s just family life, and family is family. People often say, ‘my family mean the world to me’ and, ‘I don’t know where I’d be without my family’. Previously I thought people were saying it to be nice to their families. I thought it was an obligatory saying that I didn’t quite understand because our family has never been particularly close. Some were, but then fall-outs among the parents and said family member end in lost connections and awkward hello’s.
During childhood I was close to my grandparents, then I grew up. Mum and dad didn’t need a child minder throughout the holidays any more; I could look after myself – so we stopped going. For years. My connections throughout most of my family though have always felt a bit disjointed.
At 16 I started phoning them, my aunts and my grandparents, because that is what I saw from friends that people did with their families when they lived far away.
‘01422123456, Anderson household, Marble speaking.’
‘Hi Marble, it’s Neely.’
‘Oh hi Neely. What’s wrong? What do you want?’
‘I was just ringing to see how everyone was.’
‘Oh we’re all fine. Same old, same old.’
‘Oh OK then. That’s good.’
‘Bye. So I suppose we’ll speak in a year or so again and it will be the same and I’ll tell you we’re doing the same old and that we’re all still alive’
I stopped phoning. When I saw them next, we’d all grown up, my cousins and I. We’d all been studying, working, and making a start on planning life ambitions. I spoke to my cousin sometimes but he was always busy, which I suppose you could call, ‘same old, same old’. I realised from watching and talking about families to other people that our family was slightly different. To them family was more than just blood, but a bonded connection. In our family, it was nothing more than genetic connections at reproduction – and no longer anything more.
It dawned on me that people weren’t saying family were the most important people in their lives to be nice about feelings, just like people didn’t utter ‘I love you’ to their families out of obligation, they meant it – but my family, we were different. More acquaintances at life events when we’re supposed to ‘do family shit’, like funerals. Or someone to be compared against when we want to brag about achievements: when really it doesn’t matter because we never see each other anyway – but now, in this moment, it does matter because we want to brag about everything we achieved during those years of same old, same old.
It is like a hidden game, an under-dog of ‘oh nothing’ then ‘HUZZAH! See! Fucking amazing!’. And we all get roped into it, my cousins and I, even though we’re not the ones instigating any of it. The successful cousin doesn’t brag about himself, perhaps he is sick of it after a life time I wonder. Instead, he is as is, and we are as we are, ‘how about a coffee?’ It’s nice to just be. But we are not close, my family and I.
When Granddad was dying, and eventually died it was another family period of time for pretending to be close, pretending to know one another, and of ‘doing family shit’. We’d gather at his bed side, and he summed it up well to me, ‘we don’t have much to say to one another really, do we Neely?’
‘Uhhmm… I suppose not, no’
– Let’s smile this off. –
I am fond of my childhood memories of him being around the house at holidays, taking forever to eat, and guessing what the advert is for when the sound is turned off. He eventually passed. It was his time and he felt ready within himself, or so I’d heard, through the grapevine, maybe at the funeral, maybe during the arrangements of dates, times and travel. At some point I heard.
I hadn’t seen any of my family for months by the time the funeral came. He took his time about passing did my granddad. Some would call him a fighter, I would say that medicine is probably too good at preserving very poorly people on the brink of death from death itself: and I can say that because I think it is true. It wasn’t a shock. Science had to lose to the inevitability of life and death at some point.
By coincidence, I’d relapsed into my anorexia quite significantly that year. Although informed we didn’t talk about it between my parents and I. Another hanging shadow to ok past, through and beyond. Prior to the funeral service we went to the ‘family room’, my shadow and I, where relatives would gather, prepare and maybe, in other families, utter supportive words of strength and courage before the ceremony. As I walked in my feelings remained muted except a twinging discomfort about being in a room for an uncomfortable amount of time with a family I barely knew, and we are a small bunch.
Although we hadn’t spoke to or seen each other in over 6 months, I headed straight for my dad as this was the most familiarity I had. He felt uncomfortable, just as I did. Together, we had previously been the closest to one another during his lonely period of post-divorce. ‘Hi Dad’. He looked at me. It took a while. He didn’t recognise me. My own father didn’t recognise me. Maybe he saw my shadow first. ‘Have you lost weight?’
‘On accident. I’ve been a bit stressed I suppose.’ On we pretended as if nothing was wrong ignoring the looming darkness cast by my shadow.
The family entered the service room as if somehow now they had become a bonded unit. I trailed behind having been left in the toilet and coming out to find myself at the back of the queue feeding into the service room behind ‘bus friends’, neighbours, and maybe the baker.
During the funeral procedure I felt isolated and alone and confused within my emotions. My stifled laughter became flooded in tears, a fortunately more appropriate response. The funeral coincided with my descent from anorexia into fully fledged madness. I managed. I think I concealed it. Nothing was said, although I doubt it would have been either way.
Afterwards Grandma kept saying that it was a perfect service and that Granddad would have really loved it. I wouldn’t know. During the service and speech I had no idea who the man they were talking about was. I knew nothing, and felt that perhaps I shouldn’t have gone; after all we had nothing much to say to one another, as was the last thing he pointed out to me when he was alive. Grandma knew though, and she knew that he would have thought it perfect whilst as a disjointed family of northerners, we dribbled and bimbled our way to the house with the buffet to sit around the living room on odd chairs scavenged from across the house, to eat finger food whilst Grandma reminisced aloud about her life with Granddad.
Adequately nervous about the buffet, but glad of northern traditions of mandatory buffets for every occasion because I could control what went on my plate, sandwich and ultimately in my mouth without course for comment. Or so I had thought. I made a sandwich, being careful to pick ‘safe’ toppings and ‘whoa whoa whoa, please don’t butter all the bread, I don’t want butter on my bread thank you’ in a quiet hush so no-one else would hear my protest. Handfuls of crisps in mixed up flavours were heaped onto paper plates, and napkins gathered in excess. My uncle dove straight for the pork pies, that judging by his urgency, he had been excited about since they bought them for the buffet. Likely he’d been told that he had to wait to eat them. With his plate hovering over his protruding gut, with pastry in his 70s beard, and pork pie swishing between his molars and saliva he couldn’t help but notice that I had a sandwich. ‘That’s a big sandwich. I would have thought you’d be needing to watch your weight.’
‘No. I…uh…it’s just ham…and some salad. It looks bigger than it is. I’m a bit hungry, I didn’t eat breakfast’ My eyes darting all over the floor in the nerves of shame.
‘Well I was just saying I would have thought you’d be needing to watch your figure now that you’re older.’ As if I had let myself go. Anything else that might have been said is blurred out by the suffocation of inner panic, then fizzled with annoyance that I’d been, oh stupid me, trying to cover up my eating disorder by piling my sandwich high with lettuce and salad leaves. As it turns out, I needed to watch my weight: according my to my uncle with the protruding stomach below his highly piled high plate of pork pies, pastry and processed meat swishing between words and sentences.
My BMI at this point was emaciated. I only ate my salad vegetables before realising that night in my hotel room just how little I could, and most likely should, subsist from. My shadow had a new leash of life, a new level of proof to my greed and disgust, and more lights within myself to overcast in our fight to live together.