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Authors: Emma Woolf

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BOOK: An Apple a Day
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Of course I believe that telling my story matters: I believe that the process of documenting this recovery is helping me, that self-awareness is important, and that learning from one's own experiences is preferable to simply giving up. I want to challenge the stigma of mental illness and explore eating disorders from the inside. I'm writing this book because I genuinely think it will help me (and others) beat anorexia. But even while I'm being more honest than I've ever been, I'm still restricting my food, maintaining my anorexic habits, pretending it's OK.

The reality is that I'm never going to write myself healthy. Time slips away—months have gone by since I began working on this book—and I've gained and lost the same few pounds. I've been
so caught up in writing about it, making pledges and resolutions, answering emails and drafting chapters, traveling with Tom and eating low-fat yogurts—where is the progress? As always, I've been “too busy to eat.” And that's just another excuse.

This time it's going to be different. It's the start of the summer now and I've decided this is my new beginning. I'm making this promise afresh and I mean it: I'm going to start eating. This determination has been building for some time—not only the frustration, boredom, and stupidity of anorexia, but also the desire for a baby. How can I continue to write about recovery without showing tangible progress? There's only so long readers will sustain belief in someone who isn't getting anywhere . . .

And there's my relationship with Tom. How much longer can I go on putting him through this? How much more of my hunger-and-food anxiety can he stand? He wants a baby too, and his yearning to be a father matters as much as mine to be a mother.

It matters terribly to me that Tom wants to be a father. It keeps me awake at night, how I'm letting him down, how I'm holding us back, because all this is my fault; I'm the dysfunctional one. We've tried so many times to get to the root of all this, to sort out my head and talk through the fears. Often when we're traveling on a train or a plane, Tom will seize his pen and notebook as we're talking, and draw up yet another list of strategies for my recovery. Then we both sign it.

I've kept them all, here in the top drawer of my desk, kind of alternative love letters. They include the Eurostar Manifesto (May 2010); the Kenya Treaty (Oct 2010); the Zanzibar Resolution (Nov 2010); the Cape Town Contract (Dec 2010); the Paris Agreement (Jan 2011); the Denver Declaration and the Sacramento Accord (May 2011); and just last week, the Albanian Affidavit (June 2011).

An example of one of these documents is as follows, written in a Starbucks in Elko, Nevada, in May:

Start today (4/5/11).

You are not fat; you will never get fat.

Eat for our baby.

Eat three meals a day.

your food.

Sleeping will be easier.

Life will open up for us . . . in so many ways.

No running, cut back on cycling, not too much swimming but . . .

join the best gym in London, for after the baby's birth. That's a promise.

Treat this like army drill or marathon training: eat properly. No choice!

Stop thinking, worrying . . . just do it.

It will get easier.

I love you.

The exact wording varies, but they're all similar to this, supportive and funny and reassuring. Tom sometimes says, exasperated, “Why do you keep them, Em? Why don't you follow them?”

Recently I've begun to feel immensely guilty about all this; surely it's too much for anyone to stand. I wonder why he doesn't go and get himself a normal girlfriend. I have said to Tom, if he needs a break from me, I would entirely understand. This weekend, in the car, I even suggested a separation: say, three months, where I have to get myself better, and he can have time off from all my neuroses. He said no, immediately; he wouldn't even discuss it. But I can see the desperation in his eyes and I know what a strain it is, being with me. I've been dealing with it for over a decade but, really, this wasn't what Tom signed up for, was it?

I notice that I always write, “it's been over ten years,” or “more than a decade,” when I refer to anorexia. That's self-delusion. I
remember I did the same thing when I smoked—oh, I've smoked for about five years—even when it was closer to ten. Enough of the lies cloaked in vagueness; it's been nearly fourteen years now, which you could call an emergency.

* * *

The feeling that I need to take action has been mounting, but this week three things specifically happened.

First: I was at my sister Katie's flat on Monday afternoon. Her best friend Carla, a former model, had been having one of her regular wardrobe de-junks and had dropped off a trash bag stuffed with designer clothes. Like my mother, my big sister is extremely slight—they are both barely five foot two—whereas I'm taller with a broader frame, around five foot six, like my little sister, Alice. We both wear size nine shoes, whereas Mum and Katie are size five.

Carla's designer cast-offs are usually too long for Katie, so she cherry-picks the pretty tops or shirts and then invites me to look through the rest: skirts, trousers, etc. On Monday, while she fed the children their supper—fish cakes with new potatoes—I tried on dresses and jeans, wandering between the kitchen and bedroom, alternately cuddling baby Theo (my nine-month-old nephew) and gossiping with Katie. The conversation went something like this, although we mouthed certain phrases to keep it clean for the curious four- and six-year-old ears of my nieces.

Me, zipping myself into a sequined cocktail dress
: So, when you got pregnant the first time around, how did you know? Was there a moment before you did the test when you just woke up and felt different?

: I don't know really . . . we were skiing that Christmas, and I remember not wanting any alcohol, which must have been a sign, and Charlie said I seemed really tired—just wanting to collapse and stay in
every night, then we got home and my period didn't arrive. So I did a test.

: But were you actively trying for a baby? I mean, how long had you been trying for?

: Well, we'd been married about a year I suppose . . . we agreed it would be nice to think about babies but we both assumed it would take ages. I'd come off the Pill in October, and then I guess I conceived sometime in December—so it was quite quick! But Em, that's a good sign—if your mum and sisters are fertile; it runs in families.

: I suppose. But Katie, it's exhausting, trying all the time! I'm so jealous of women who have regular periods, because at least they can do the charts and work out when they're ovulating, whereas I have no clue. Remember the doctor who told me it's possible to ovulate without having periods? I want to keep things spontaneous with Tom, but I also know we both need a break sometimes. I wish I had a definite fertile window each month, you know? I'm running out of ways to make it interesting . . .

By this point we're both laughing and the little girls start laughing along with us too.

: I know—if you have three or five or ten days when you can go into action it's definitely less exhausting
—we haven't had daily sex for years! But listen, maybe you need to take a new perspective on this. You feel powerless because you don't know what's happening inside you: if you're ovulating, if you can conceive, right? There is something you can do. Forget the horizontal baby-dancing for the moment, that's not the problem here. What you
do is get to your target weight. We know there's nothing medically wrong, all you need to do is to bump up your calories and get your periods back. (She's smiling at me, encouraging, and I'm smiling back, baby Theo gurgling
as I joggle him on my hip.) Em, it's empowering, it's exciting—you're in control—you can actually do something about this!

Katie's absolutely right: until I'm at my target weight, about 120 pounds, why am I worrying about conceiving? I haven't done the simplest (and hardest) thing yet. I'm still hovering around 110 pounds because I'm scared to move forward. Going from 108 to 110 pounds was a huge hurdle for me; going above 110 pounds seems almost unimaginable. But to hell with that. I need to gain the extra pounds—whatever it takes to start menstruating again—and then we'll see about babies.

Nine or ten pounds. I can do this.

And the clothes? I scored a black pair of Whistles trousers (my nieces told me they looked smart) and a white shirt from Gap (you can never have too many white shirts) and a fantastic pair of Rock and Republic jeans (two inches too long, but I've since taken a pair of scissors to them). So, a good haul of designer swag and some really good advice from Katie. As so many times before, she got me back on track.

* * *

The second thing was this: on Wednesday evening, after a midweek film date in Leicester Square, Tom and I were at his flat in Mortlake. We were in the kitchen; me chopping broccoli, Tom prepping his pizza to put in the oven (he adds extra ham and chili flakes and hot sauce). Apropos of nothing, Tom casually mentioned that he'd weighed himself and realized he'd put on more than nine pounds in the last month or so. Nine pounds?

Tom, opening the oven in a gush of hot air and prodding the melting cheese on top of his pizza
: I know, weird isn't it? I was 128 pounds
and now I'm 138, just like that. Dunno where it came from—probably all that American food—anyway, it's good news. I've always thought I should be 145 pounds, now I'm aiming for 155. Might even get some of those protein shakes to drink before the gym, actually.

: I can't believe you've put on nine pounds and it doesn't even show . . .

Like me, Tom is slim (I can wear his shirts, sweaters, even jeans), but the difference is that he eats for England. I honestly don't know where his food goes—hollow legs?—but he can pack away hamburgers, steaks, fries, sandwiches, chocolates, and cakes without it showing up on his frame. He's not skinny—he works out in the gym every lunchtime and has strong shoulders and arms—but he's wiry, muscular. He often says he should “bulk up” (men want to increase their size while women want to reduce it) but no amount of food seems to affect him. So this news that he's recently gained nine pounds is surprising.

More than that, it's massively encouraging. One of the main reasons I can't gain weight has been the fear that a few extra pounds will give me lardy thighs and ass; that I'll become wobbly and fleshy and excessive. Throughout this journey of recovery I've wanted certainty: that I won't get fat; that my eating won't spiral out of control; that my weight gain won't continue until I'm obese—but of course no one can give me that certainty. They can reassure me and encourage me, but no one can guarantee what will happen.

Tom's development is the closest thing to proof I've had: his weight gain doesn't even show! If the closest person to me can put on 9 pounds and I don't even notice—and nor did he—then surely, surely, I can do it too?

* * *

The third trigger was last night in a West Sussex hotel, when we finally watched the DVD of a short film I'd made back in April, just a few months ago.

We drove down on Friday to review a new hotel for Tom's column. We'd been given the Henry VIII Suite, which was like something out of a Tudor historical romance—all mahogany wood, burgundy velvet armchairs, hanging tapestries, and a four-poster bed. The bathroom was vast, with dove-gray marble floor tiles and an antique claw-foot bath.

It was one of those rare, idyllic weekends when everything comes together: the sun shone and we walked along the pebble beach and it was even warm enough, between breezy gusts, for a quick dip in the sea. In the spa they treated me to a body massage and ice facial while Tom met the hotel manager over lunch, getting the information he needed for his review (and a bottle of red wine under his belt).

Then, after another stroll along the beach and dinner, Tom went to the bar to fetch us two large glasses of sauvignon blanc. We flopped down on the red velvet chaise longue and slipped in the DVD.

After the anorexia column launched in
The Times
, I was contacted by a few TV producers about the possibility of making a documentary. I had some meetings and came to the decision quite early on that I didn't want to get involved with reality TV. As someone who was brought up without a television in the house—and has never owned a television—I've never understood the point of it. Nor was I willing to prance around in my underwear (skinny girl makes shocking viewing), nor could I cope with the idea of a camera following me around, nor was I ready to be filmed in a café being “unable” to eat a plate of fries. I don't need to be humiliated, publicly, to see how idiotic this illness is.

BOOK: An Apple a Day
7.13Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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