I keep a litre bottle of fizzy water beside my bed, and a clean glass. The alarm goes off ten minutes earlier than it needs to, and I paddle to the bathroom in my negligee: a sheer black lace nightie that rides up as I toss and turn, but that makes me feel together. Accomplished. Sexy, sometimes, too. In the bathroom I use the £30 cleanser – the only thing that keeps my skin bright, that sees the red lumps under the skin of my jaw shrink, red lumps caused by sadness, and frustration, too, because what do I have to be sad about? Back in my room, I pour the fizzy water into the clean glass and take my vitamins. If I achieve nothing else in that day at least the first five minutes have had dignity. I treated myself well. I force myself to make the bed, to open the curtains, to crack the window for fresh, cold air.
I can do this.
I am doing this.
At the height of it – or, probably, it’s better to say at the lowest of it – I had a One Thing A Day rule. If I could do One Thing A Day I was okay. That one thing might’ve been dropping letters off at the post office. Replying to a few emails. Going to therapy. A cup of tea. Mostly, I slept. I’d go take the kids I nanny to school, a job I took because I needed a reason to get out of bed, truth be told, something to do as I held my breath for the book to come out, then I’d come home to sleep. I'd only wake up to go pick them up again. Without that, without them, I don’t think I’d have been able to leave the house at all.
I was never hungry, but I ate. I ate whatever was to hand, and full of sugar, because sugar gave me a high and I was missing feeling high (feeling anything) because, the doctor said, I’d used up all the serotonin in my body in the past few months. Working too hard, worrying, sleeplessness, it had robbed me. There’s so much I could say, but will limit myself to this: the “freelance dream” is seldom that. An author's life doesn't look how you think it might. Lacking in serotonin – a hormone, the neurotransmitter that carries messages through the brain – can mean depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, panic, and even excess anger. Check, check, check. I felt rootless and full of unease and aimless and pointless for twenty-three hours of the day, but for the five minutes I stole here and there to shove cupcakes and crumpets into my mouth – as many as I could, because it became a game, really, to empty the packet and hide the evidence – I was lighter. Happier. If I was chewing, I wasn’t thinking. If I was mindlessly eating, I was free of thoughts. It became my bliss. My salvation. My secret.
My body has changed shape. My jaw has sunk into my neck and my silhouette is rounded and my summer clothes don’t fit. My belly gently brushes the tops of my thighs when I sit down and those thighs rub each other when I walk. I'm forty pounds - about three stone - heavier than I was. My physical self is a battle scar, though: every ounce I have gained is testimony to surviving in the only way I could figure out how. Food. But my size isn’t the point. The survival is.
I can’t loathe myself. I can’t dislike the dimples and the jiggles and bulges. I’m bigger than I’ve been in a long time, but I have to be okay with it because every bleached carb and duvet day has kept me from sinking even further. I’m used to doing exactly what I set my mind to, but it’s my mind that has needed rest. She will for the rest of the year, I’d imagine. It’s so humbling to have to recognise my limitations, that for now – maybe forever – this is how I look because food has helped, and I couldn’t, literally could physically not, do much more than a long walk around the park.
Going slower is killing me, but it’s the thing that is saving me, too. Medication is lifting the fog, increasing that hormone I need, and with it I’m swimming every day, now, because that feels good. Slow - always slow - immersive, swimming, for almost forty-five minutes at a time. I’m doing my best. I’m putting one foot in front of the other. I can do more than one thing a day now, too. Small things, but still: things. I call my mother at 9 a.m. every day, and my father at 6 p.m., and talk to my brother somewhere in between, and wear lipstick and fill in my brows. I have matching underwear in all different coloured sets and can actually focus long enough to enjoy a book somebody else has written, and I’ve got ideas for my own second book and am excited, tentatively, about the future.
I’m dating, slowly and with mixed results, but I can laugh about it because laughter comes easier. I paint my nails and go to bed early and prune my herb garden and cook green vegetables in butter and cream because still, the food is a comfort, but now I can taste it.
When I look in the mirror, that’s what I see. I see a woman becoming a newer, stronger, more accepting version of herself – a physical softness reflecting a mental one. I’m kinder to myself than ever before, and that kindness? It’s so massive, it needs bigger knickers, is all.
That self-acceptance, it's more than I can hold in two hands.