Hello, my name is Claire, and Doctor Anwell has kindly asked me to speak to you all today. My request to you is a simple one: I want you to fight. It's a simple request from a simple person. I'm not a doctor, a nurse, a 'specialist' of any sort. I've spent my working life stacking shelves and scanning endless barcodes in the Coop. They offered me manager about 10 years ago, but I wasn't really in a position to take it. What qualifies me to stand here and talk to you is my role as a mother. Because about 10 years and 2 months ago, my baby girl sat here, in this same wing of this same hospital, and I asked of her the same thing I am asking you people: to fight.
By the time she came here, Alex was defined by her illness, but it wasn't always that way. June 30th, 1990, was perhaps my second happiest day yet. There she was, all crumpled skin and screwed up features, uninhibited as she was placed, naked, disheveled, awash in bodily fluids, into my arms. She was perfect: not that perfection was a concept she was either aware of or cared for at that point. It all seemed so simple and clear. Stewart, Claire and now Alex would face the world together. We would fight.
Alex’s upbringing was nice. She had no need to stand out through starvation. Oh she gave me reasons when I asked, sure. You expected so much of me mum, you always loved my sister more: I just couldn't bear being the one with unfortunately stocky thighs and no discernable talent anymore. Deprivation is my talent. It was all fantasy, fabricated by disease - Alex is my favourite, she always has been.
I could tell you how she met Anorexia, a slow burning romance which seeped into my consciousness without any singular defining moment. I’d like to say there was a moment of realization, a discovery of discarded meals amongst the rubbish, poorly concealed in used Sainsbury’s carriers, or sudden glimpse of protruding ribs long disguised beneath oversized shirts. But none of that happened. The sudden enlightenment Takeabreak magazine promises in these situations weren’t my reality. The transition between her wolfing down Trick or Treat sweets to taking dinner in her bedroom is hard to recall. The weight came off slowly, unnoticeably, and the tired, sunken look accompanied the stress of her A-Level exams.
But I think I knew what was up long before I admitted it, and initiated a series of painfully frank discussions, which before long became doctor’s appointments, became family counseling, became outpatient visits and finally, Alex’s incarceration in this very wing of this very hospital. And that brings me to the crux of this story.
Ten years, three months ago.
I asked her to fight. I begged her to fight. I sobbed, emotionally blackmailed, wailed, howled, snot protruding from my nose as I’d seen done in many an incredibly realistic Eastenders episode. I did it all and I didn’t give up. I fought and I fought.
But she didn’t fight. She just looked. Looked at me with glassy eyes that each day held less of Alex and more of Anorexia. A once powerful ally now an omnipresent foe.
Still, I asked her to fight. And that day, ten years, two months ago, became the best day of my life. That day she had hit 5 stone 2, a new milestone for her. The nurse told me impassively that I was running out of time; organ failure loomed. She lay on her bed, hair brittle with age unlived, cheeks sunken pools ravaged by drought. But her eyes held a glimmer of something, of someone: my Alex. My heart leapt. To this day I don’t know what caused her to fight, but she had, and she had broken through the double-glazed stare ruthlessly lain by her disease.
The rest is history. Oh it was a long road, but the longest roads lead to the best destinations. Alex grew each day, and with her strength of mind her body fought, expanded. It was like watching a crumpled bouncy castle being reflated, the creases effortlessly smoothing into life. Or at least I imagine it that way.
Ten years on, she married, had children – I’m a Grandmother! She’s outstripped my dowdy career and manages her own team in an accountancy firm. Anorexia still lurks inside but it’s a mere sunspot on her vision. And beyond it her vision is so bright – some days my heart might burst from pride.
Or at least it would if she had made it, ten days and two months ago. The nurse told me her kidneys failed. Her body had shut down. Alex had left the building.
Girls, you have parents and loved ones too. That is why you need to fight. If nothing else, fight for Alex, and realize the life she didn’t, the self that never was. Don’t make another mother go through what I have had to. Fight for what I have lost.