In the year before I broke down I was thinner than I am now. Noticeably so, as far as I am concerned. I have clothes from that period that I don’t throw away. They hold in my mind all that I remember as good. I was thin (people commented on it). I was carefree, professionally successful, and impressing people with my achievements.
I was also suicidal, but denied that even to myself. I would joke that I’d wanted to walk under a bus to avoid having to go to work. I never noticed that that being true was a problem. I flipped between personality states: the depressed, crying myself to sleep every night, and the party animal, drinking champagne out of the bottle on the dance floor long after midnight and being first into work the next day.
I was thinner for a range of reasons. I did a lot of physical activity. In that year I went on a Himalayan mountaineering expedition. If there’s a better way to lose weight, I do not know it. After a month doing hard work at between four and six thousand metres, I got back to Kathmandu and undressed in the hotel: I saw muscles and bones clearly where usually there were only soft mounds. That is the one time my body has looked like that of a fitness model. I also ran. A lot. Three marathons in the two months before going to the Himalaya. I did two intense weeks of Alpine mountaineering in the summer. Most dramatically, in the month in which I eventually landed in hospital I did the 190 mile Coast to Coast in six-and-a-half days. That’s not a fast time for a pro endurance runner. But for me, carrying a rucksack, it was solid effort.
So I was thinner. Sometime in that year I switched from wearing a UK size ten to usually buying an eight. I was proud of that. I could wear any style that was in fashion with confidence, and I did. I was proud when the assistant in Jigsaw said no-one ever was able to fit their size eight suits without any adjustment the way that I did. I bought several of them on that wave of pride. I discovered designer discounts and lapped them up. (I had the salary for it at that stage as well. I no longer do.) I was proud when an elegantly slim Russian colleague accosted me at the coffee machine and asked how did I manage it. (I remember what I was wearing that day.)
I was proud because I wasn’t obsessed by weight. I wasn’t one of those ridiculous (I told myself) women who were worried about it. I genuinely did eat whatever I liked. I drank alcohol. Heavily. (I was naturally perfect, or so I thought.) I also always missed breakfast, and was under a huge amount of stress. I had no ability to feel my body and what it needed; and in that state quite often just forgot to eat.
I still wonder whether that was a halcyon period. I struggle to see how it contributed to the breakdown and all that has come with it. I sometimes think still that I want to get back to it.
When I came out of hospital, having gained over fifteen kilos, I tried to get back to that magical size eight. I became the ridiculous self-centred weight-focussed woman I had previously so disdained. I had, I am told, problematically anorexic tendencies. Later that morphed into compulsive bulimia. I was caught in the trap of disordered eating in order to attain again my perfect world of effortless thin. I have, they tell me, body dysmorphia; I see my body as much bigger than it is. They tell me. By definition I disbelieve them.
That will all take some time to get over. Slowly I am getting there. Ultimately, though, my body is not meant to be that thin. (They tell me this. I am beginning to believe them.) I’m fit now; I can run a half-marathon, and have a full one planned for next year. I’ve done a lot of yoga which is why my shoulders are bigger than they were. (My rock climbing has improved as a result.) My additional lower body strength has improved my skiing. And I remain solidly a size ten.
It hurts. This morning I tried on a pair of jeans from that pre-breakdown period. One which I used to wear all the time. Grey, bleached, with zips right up the sides. They pulled up further than last time I tried them, but still my thighs are too big.
Admitting I care is part of the recovery process. In the past, you see, I was perfect. Thin, without effort. Amazing at work. Himalayan mountaineer. Social life on acid. All to die for, and I nearly did. I am learning now that that perfection is not attainable. I now feel sensations in my body, and so I cannot torture it as I once, inadvertently, did. I can’t work full-time, because I need eleven hours of sleep. I’m lumpy and bumpy like everyone else. There’s a process of grief that’s ongoing. But I’ll be more sane after that’s through.