You are squashing a lone branflake against the side of your cereal bowl, as you sit on bedrest in a children’s psychiatric hospital. You must extract from the flake as much milk as you can. You’re sure the milk is blue top, the full-fat one, and you don’t want to ingest any of it because tomorrow is weigh day and gaining anything will mean you’re losing control and getting fat.
Three weeks ago, you had your branflakes with water. You could count the flakes you put in your bowl – ten. And count the tablespoons of water you had them with – two. You could see the bottom of your cereal bowl then. But in here, you’re not allowed to prepare your breakfast. A nurse has to. Having water instead of milk is out of the question and you’ll need to eat several spoonfuls before you’re able to see the bottom of your bowl. But you can’t. This one flake is difficult enough.
Tears are powering down your worn face, collecting in the hollows of your collarbones. You’re furious. Branflakes aren’t as easy to hide as Quality Streets or raisins. You can’t squirrel them away down your sleeves. You wish you were as brave as the other anorexic down the hall, who can somehow wipe rice pudding down the back of the curtains without getting caught.
I’m writing to you, as a thirty-three year old mum with no thigh gap. I’m writing to tell you that, while right now you feel like you would rather die than finish your breakfast, one day you’ll have a good relationship with food. It’ll be everything that it isn’t now, and you’ll be okay with that.
You won’t believe what I’m about to tell you, but one day eating a full dinner plate of fusilli coated in pesto and parmesan will be normal. You won’t bother counting the pieces of pasta or weighing the cheese. You’ll put in what seems like enough pesto, rather than the smallest amount you can get away with. What’s more, the slightly oily feeling on your lips when you’re finished eating won’t even bother you.
One day, you’ll have a bar of milk chocolate in the drawer next to your bed, and sometimes, in the middle of the night, you’ll wake up, reach into that drawer for your chocolate, break a piece off and eat it. Then you’ll go back to sleep.
One day, with your brothers and sister, you’ll order an Indian takeaway. You’ll pick what sounds the most delicious. You’ll eat a full peshwari naan in front of your siblings and not want to kill yourself afterwards. Instead, you’ll tell your mum that you’d rather it had been more coconutty.
You’re not going to believe this, as you sit there scowling at the nurse supervising your breakfast, but one day food isn’t going to be terrifying anymore. Meal times won’t be all conflict and grief and fury. You’ll eat, you’ll want to keep living. I promise.
Katie Metcalfe is a writer, blogger, poet, and musician from Teesside. She’s also a new mum, a proud wyrdo and an introvert living with bipolar, anxiety and psychosis. Katie has published several books, including Dying Is Forbidden In Longyearbyen, My Heart Is A Forest and Utburd. She has performed her poetry in the UK, Norway, Sweden, and Canada. Recently, she launched her debut music album HEX with her band Cave Mouth. Katie’s art is very northerly focused and strongly influenced by the strange, shadowy and untamed. She blogs at Wyrd Words & Effigies and MostNorthern. More information can be found on her website: katiemetcalfewriting.com