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Authors: Emma Woolf

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This bracelet came into my life unexpectedly last week. I had returned from a long day's writing at the British Library to find a surprise waiting for me at home. A package on the doormat, and I didn't recognize the handwriting or the postmark. Curious, I opened it to find a delicate bracelet wrapped in fuchsia-pink silk.

With the bracelet there was a letter from a
Times
reader, explaining:

Although I've never been a sufferer of anorexia I have other obsessions, so I understand what you're going through. I love making jewelry, and some of the beads I use have supposed healing properties
.

She went on to explain that these healing powers may be genuine, or they may be “mumbo-jumbo,” but it helps if the wearer believes in them.

With this in mind, I have made you a bracelet to wear. I selected stones with a connection to fertility, stress, anxiety, compulsions, and insomnia as being of particular relevance
.

She's certainly got my number! I held it up to the light, touching the strands of spun gold, fine beading, and luminescent stones. It fits perfectly, as if it was made for me. Well, it was.

There's mother-of-pearl “to calm and allay fears,” and gold-stone “for energy, courage, and positive attitude.” Next is jade, an “emotional balancer and bringer of peace,” and unakite, which “facilitates rebirthing and fertility.” Agate “rebalances and harmonizes the body, heals the stomach, and uterus,” and hematite “helps overcome addictions and enhances willpower.” Last on my bracelet,
and the prettiest stone of all, rose quartz “protects mother and baby, and purifies and opens the heart to promote self-love.” Can a bracelet really have healing properties? Something about it makes me want to keep it near.

I hesitate there on the balcony with my coffee, postponing the inevitable. Inside, my flat is unrecognizable: clothes folded neatly in suitcases, books stacked in huge cardboard boxes, papers and documents in crates and folders, shoes jumbled up in trash bags. The bookshelves are naked, the closets are bare, and the fridge is empty (even by my standards). Everything looks a little dusty and sad. Tom will be here in less than an hour.

He's been going mad over in South London, preparing the flat for my arrival. Every time we've spoken he's been in the middle of another DIY job: dismantling an ugly old sofa to take down to the recycling depot, throwing out boxes of cassettes and videos, ripping the bathroom cabinet off the wall and assembling a new one with a door that doesn't fall off in your hands. He has cleared storage space for me in the loft, allocated half the closets for my clothes, and even changed the batteries in the smoke alarms. We've been an odd pair over the last few weeks, between our travels and hotel trips, me muttering about final chapters and trying to pack up my flat, and him attacking filing cabinets with hammers and mixing wallpaper paste.

And last weekend we finally found the desk. Not just any desk—we've been searching for this writing desk for two years. While we were reviewing a hotel near Cirencester, we drove into town for the afternoon and happened to wander into an antique shop. It was one of those cavernous warehouses that go on and on, rooms piled high with bric-a-brac, through courtyards and around corridors stuffed with old books and records and chairs and tables—and in an attic, at the top of a winding staircase, we found the desk. We both knew it instantly. It's old wood but not
too old, three drawers to the left-hand side—a classic writer's desk, elegant but large enough for a computer and plenty of papers and cups of coffee—and the perfect size for my study. Within minutes, Tom and the antiques dealer were maneuvering it down the narrow stairs while I waited outside by the open car. They just managed to fit it in and we drove back to London the next day with the wooden legs jutting between us.

So now I even have a desk waiting for me in the new study. And yet it's a wrench leaving my flat. Whatever I've gone through—and the last four years have been some of the loneliest of my life—I've also been happy here. Contented, private, safe. Hours spent reading in bed, or soaking in the bath, or talking on the phone as I stretched out on the wooden floor. I gave up smoking here; I wrote many of the columns here, sitting at a high stool at the breakfast bar. I've sunbathed on the balcony; I've even had the occasional family party here, although I've never cooked what one might call a “meal” for a “guest.” I sweated buckets one hot summer, up on a ladder, painting these ceilings and walls; I saved up for the new kitchen, which is still pristine. I've spent hundreds of nights in this bedroom. I'm not someone who can cast off places easily. This flat has become part of me.

But even as I'm feeling sad, torn between the past and the future, I know it's time. A well-known extract from Ecclesiastes (3:1) comes into my mind—I remember it because I read it at my grandmother's funeral: “
To every thing there is a season and a time to every purpose under the heaven. A time to be born and a time to die . . . A time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance
.”

* * *

And now is a time for change. I still haven't made sense of anorexia, and I'm still not sure what “recovery” means. I don't even know
if it's behind me—yet. But I am beginning to understand myself a little more.

For example, the anxiety I've been feeling about moving is natural, normal. It's not about Tom, it's about me. Personal change is frightening but not impossible. Just like taking that first bite of Kit Kat, just like anyone who has ever stood at a crossroads, I have a choice right now. I can take the brave route, into the unknown, or I can chicken out and stick to what I know and lose everything: lose Tom, lose the chance of a baby and marriage and happiness. Every cell in my body is scared about this move, but I'm going to do it. I have been thinking about strategies for coping in tough times, and I wrote myself a list:
Radio 4, reading, writing, swimming, talking to my mum, seeing my family, eating lots of greens, drinking milk
. Simple, effective tactics to keep me sane, all of which I can do at Tom's. In between the fear I keep getting twinges of excitement. I'm going to live with my boyfriend. I really am.

The sun has risen high over the buildings opposite, warming my face and arms. It looks like another beautiful autumn day. As I pick up my coffee cup and turn to go inside, I hear the sound of tires crunching over the gravel in the courtyard below. I lean over the balcony and there's Tom, waving a bunch of white flowers at me from the window of a moving van. My heart leaps. Yes, it's time to go.

Acknowledgments

Many people have provided help and advice during the writing of this book. Particular thanks are due to the following:

To my agent, Sarah Such, for her support and guidance over the last few years. To all at Summersdale Publishers, especially Elly, Alastair, Suzanne, and Nicky, for their hard work on the book. Thank you to Justine Gore-Smith for copyediting and Abigail McMahon for proofreading, and to Robert Smith for the wonderful cover. Special thanks to my Summersdale editors Jennifer Barclay and Abbie Headon for their patience, editorial insight, and friendship.

Thanks to the many readers of
The Times
who have written and emailed over the past twelve months. Sometimes negative, usually positive, your support has been essential to this process of recovery. It's easy to read something and not bother to respond, so thanks to everyone who wrote to share their experiences and offer advice. Your generous, thoughtful messages keep me going. In particular: Hannah Joels, Raelene Sheppard, Trina Beckett, Valerie Janitch, Leila Razavi, Katie Butler, Toni Ross, Ceara Hayden, Deanne Jade, and Grace Bowman. A truly inspiring bunch of women—and now lifelong friends.

To Dr. Paul Robinson, Pramjit Kaur, and everyone at the Russell Unit, thank you for looking after me. I know it's taken me far too long to get to this point—but all your work was worthwhile. Both Dr. Robinson and my GP Dr. Richard Garlick deserve medals for their patience! Thanks to Mary George at Beat and Dr. Daghni Rajasingham for sound advice.

To my editors at
The Times
: Emma Tucker who gave me a break into journalism with a weekly column, Vanessa Jolly and Corinne Abrams—it's an absolute privilege to write for you. Thanks also to Lesley Thomas (who commissioned my first article), Nicola Jeal, Jane Knight, Laura Deeley, and Fiona McDonald-Smith at
The Times
. Thanks to Jane Garvey at
Woman's Hour
, to Stephen Nolan at Radio Five Live, Sam Baker and Brigid Moss at
Red
, and Kate Faithfull-Williams at
Grazia
.

The greatest thanks, of course, go to family and close friends. Anorexia is unpleasant for everyone, not just the sufferer, and you've all gone way beyond the limits of ordinary human kindness. Thanks to my godmother, Rita Guenigault, always ready with a smile and a large glass of wine. To TGW, in loving memory. To my friends Mark Walsh, Jo Kemp, Libby Courtice, Susan Archer, and my aunt Alison. To my best friend, Darren Bird, who always sneaks out of the office to cheer me up in Starbucks. To Tamsin Hickson, Aldo, Marianne, Keith, and all the Italian crew for the week in Mogliano when I was falling apart. To Beth Wilson and Michael Rose, in whose house and garden I wrote several chapters of this book.

How do you thank someone who introduced you to the love of your life? A million thanks to Leonora and Carolyn Bear for your matchmaking skills . . .

To my boyfriend, Tom (who gets an entire chapter of thanks and doesn't need any more here).

Thank you to my beautiful sisters, Katie and Alice, and my brothers, Philip and Trim. From childhood rivals to the very best of friends.

Finally, to Cecil and Jean Woolf, my amazing parents. It is not words could pay you what I owe.

BOOK: An Apple a Day
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