The Elephant in the Room

"Life with an eating disorder, if you can call it life, is similar to a puppet show. You are the dancing, smiling puppet, and your disorder is the puppeteer. It calls the shots and pulls the strings. It tells you when you’re going to eat and how much. It even writes the script, putting its own values where yours used to be. All of a sudden, you don’t care about your health, your friends or your dreams. All you care about is being thin, and you don’t even really know how it happened, when, or why." - (


2. The Stranger in my Sister's Head

The stranger in my sister’s head is, apparently, called Jocelyn. I’m not entirely sure whether or not it takes this name from a girl who used to be in her class and is now an international pole-vaulter. I don’t know if Stephy knows either. I only find this out now, in the charged air of this conference room, as – swamped beneath all her obscene targets on her paper hand – lie the words 'Not listening to Jocelyn'.

As far as I’m concerned, Anorexia don’t really deserve a name; it’s too repulsive to be referred to with such intimacy.

Nevertheless all the other patients also seem to have held private christenings for the voices in their heads and I begin to wonder whether this is like Stockholm Syndrome. And maybe it’s wrong of me to think like this but I sort of hope that anorexia is a rapist because my greatest fear is that Stephy’s eating disorder is just sex with consent; something that a part of her signed up to.

Apparently Annie and Anna are favourite choices; if there were books of names for anorexics like there are for unborn babies then those two would be on the first page. Am I supposed to be proud that Stephy chose something individual? I know that it’s disgusting of me to think like this, but I suppose I kind of am. Proud, I mean. A tiny, repulsive part of me is proud that Stephy's different to the others.

Because maybe if she don’t act like all these other broken kids then she can have a different outcome to them. I realise that Anorexia is apparently permanently female, even when it branches into male bodies, and I can’t help considering the naming process. Does it have a name from the first day? Or does it become more of a person the more you permit it to inhabit and inhibit your life? What would I name it?

I think something delicate and fragile. Something that doesn't give away the ridiculous amount of power anorexia would hold over me. Something deceptive. Like clothes, if they're baggy enough, can disguise the ribs that poke through Stephy's flesh. 

It's funny, because I think this kind of thing a lot but I hate myself more and more every time. 

Across the room, a girl is staring at Stephy and me like we're going to disintegrate the second she looks away. If I'm honest, Stephy isn't all that far from disintegrating. 

The girl was in the group we ended up in originally, and I can't quite tell if she's an anorexic or a sibling. She's thin - not as thin as Stephy, but the almost pretty kind of thin Stephy aspires to be. If she's anorexic, she's definitely not one of the skinniest. More likely to be a sibling, then. 

A thin, thin, thin sibling. If I were one of the anorexics, I know I'd hate her. She's probably the perfect body weight, and that's something most of the kids at Support Group are miles away from. I think I hate her anyway, actually. Not because she's done anything, in particular. Just because of who she is. 

She's the sort of girl that makes Stephy whisper to herself at night and cling to her anorexia like a baby with a comfort blanket. I think Stephy's worried, somewhere, deep down, that if she starts eating again than she'll never stop. She'll never be the perfect weight, the perfect waist, the perfect person. All she thinks she'll be is a bad imitation of flawless, at best. 

This girl - this girl who's been staring at me for so long now that it's getting kind of unnerving - she is the perfect person Stephy wants to be. And I'm willing to beg money that my little sister is the nicer, better person inside - but to her, a person's skin and weight and figure are all that matters - and dear God that kills me inside. Every time Stephy refuses meals or has to be forced to come to support group it's like she's snapped off one of her ribs and is carving a cavity into my heart with it. Then she stamps all over our egg-shell family and we all crack even though she don't weigh nothing. We live our lives on tiptoes, trying not to disturb the broken pieces. 

I blink, and the girl is still looking at me. My middle finger jerks up at her and she flinches, finally turning her face away. I don't think Jan or any of the other support workers have seen, but Stephy's mouth gapes open as she frowns at me. 

Jonathan?" asks Stephy, her voice curious, but still forceful. I find it weird, sometimes, how her voice can brim over with life and yet her body is more a skeleton than the blooming flower it wants to be. "Who was that girl? Do you know her? Do I know her? Don't you like her?" 

I decide to answer only the last question because it is the only question I am able to answer.

"No," I state and thrust my hands into my pockets with vehemence, "No, I don't like her." I pause. "Do you?"

Stephy shakes her head and I don't know if that's satisfying or shattering.


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