"Fancy a drink?" Such a message from a nice, handsome lad really ought to send excitement and flutterings shooting through the body of a single-and-looking heterosexual woman like myself. For me, however, dating triggers a torturous chain of thoughts which clutch at my chest and beat at my forehead from the moment they appear on my screen.
What day will said drink take place? Will I be able to go to the gym? Only go if I can exercise in the morning. Gin, remember, not wine – fewer calories. And make sure it’s the kind of place where they do slimline tonic. You’ll get back late so you won’t be hungry, so you can make up for missing exercise.
Then there’s the prospect of being asked to dinner.
How do I tell him a simple restaurant meal requires hours of prep: ensuring I have exercised an adequate amount to feel ‘deserving’, combing through the menu online beforehand, calculating calorie content? Spending two hours putting the agonising, relentless, exhausting inner torment I get if I so much as look at a menu down to being ‘picky’.
So when a Tinder bio contains the word ‘foodie’, it’s an automatic swipe left (although I’m pretty sure I’d still find that annoying if I was eating disorder-free).
Sounds shit, doesn’t it? Welcome to the single world according to me. The world of a woman trying to rebuild her life – hopeless romanticism included – after years in an abusive relationship with her own head. Sometimes depression. Always anorexia.
It’s not like I have completely given up on dating and men since I became what I’d term a ‘functioning anorexic’ – I still work, socialise, teeter just above the BMI danger zone but exercise obsessively and excessively – at the age of 22.
I’ve had flings and flirtations and even one fairly serious relationship since the eating disorder took hold but these have been largely doomed. Only with hindsight can I look back and understand that in every case, I was choosing my eating disorder over them.
The moment it felt like someone was getting close enough to get in the way of my military-esque regime of exercise and barely eating, or question my behaviour, things would unravel.
Intimacy was hard. The thought of having sex when you’re so cold you can barely bring yourself to undress at night is horrific. Satisfaction in the bedroom, to me, is using a hot water bottle in May. And how can you stand anyone touching your body when you can barely look at it yourself?
There’s a notion that people with anorexia stand and admire their skeletal frame in front of full-length mirrors. I cannot speak for others, but for me it has always been the opposite. I’ve been every high street dress size, from six to 16, and I’ve hated each and every single version of my body in some way.
Getting back out there is an important part of recovery to me. I love meeting people and I love the company of men (preferably with broad shoulders and kind hearts). I want that new-fella-feeling back, the one that goes 'IF I DO NOT SEE HIM IN THE NEXT MINUTE I THINK MY GUTS MAY EXPLODE'.
But I don't even get periods and my hormones are all over the place. It’s impossible to know if I really fancy someone. I have to ask myself 'Would I?' if there were enough hormones in my body to be sent into any kind of rage.
For a long time I have clung to the notion that one day I’d meet someone and everything would just magically fall into place. It feels foolish to type, but it’s true. I’ve read countless stories of other people and their eating disorders – often desperately searching for a ‘cure’ – and it always seems to have a happy-ever-after. A wedding photo or a smiling baby.
I’ve even heard tales along the lines of "So-and-so had something like you, but when she met Dave she completely changed". In print I see those words for their baselessness but in real life, in moments of desperation and childlike vulnerability, I have truly believed it.
I am so much more than my anorexia. I live and breathe journalism, I love politics, I’m opinionated and fierce. I love gin, football, spending all my hard-earned cash in & Other Stories then moaning I’ll never have a mortgage. E.T. scares the bejesus out of me. I love soul music, driving to Fleetwood Mac, period dramas, listening to The Archers and watching Love Island with my mum. I think Radiohead are crap.
Writing this article I’m mindful that I run the risk of being defined by my illness. But for me, I’m blessed with insight and I want to show my anorexia for the conniving, controlling, evil bastard it is. This is what I’ve got to contend with every minute of every hour of every single day.
There are times when it wins, but there are times when I do. The war isn’t over, and maybe it never will be, but the little battles from which I emerge victorious (booking a holiday at a gym-less hotel, smashing it at work, a wine with mates, a cracker with cheese) make it worth fighting for.
I’m not a Disney princess so I don’t need or want a happy-ever-after. I just want to learn to accept and love myself – body and soul – because that is the only relationship guaranteed to stand the test of time.
If you are struggling with an eating disorder, please call Beat on 0345 634 1414. Support and information is available 365 days a year.