Fact & Fiction in Nothing to Lose – Reality Bites (fact#2)

Reality bites – this sounds like a pun in very bad taste. You will see what I mean if you carry on reading. It is time for my second revelation relating to the storyline in Nothing to Lose: anorexia.

In Nothing to Lose Gillian watches her daughter Tara shed pounds like they’re going out of style. Being a detective, she snoops into Tara’s life (and bedroom) to discover a battery of slimming products. This confirms every mother’s worst fears – that her child is spiralling into an eating disorder and starving herself to death. It is a fearful prospect because it is more a disease of the mind than the body. You can’t cure an anorexic – not until they are ready to accept food and keep it in. And that moment may never come. Anorexia is a catch-twenty-two: the more you try to control it, the more it controls you. Any external intervention against your will meets with a wall of resistance. I know. I’ve been there.

Just like Tara, I was about eighteen, in my first year of university. I had just moved from the sleepy, tranquil world of my childhood in the country to a frenzied, crowded city. I didn’t know what hit me. Life overwhelmed me. It had spun out of my control. I was lost. I was surrounded by strangers; no space to hide, no holes to crawl into. The speed of my life was nauseating. I could not keep up with it. I could not control it. The only thing I could control was food. It wasn’t about dieting, not in the beginning. It was all about re-introducing order into my life. Only later did I start to count calories, and after that, when I stopped counting, I simply couldn’t bring myself to eat. The mere smell of cooking made me feel sick. I think that was where I crossed the line – the point of no return.

Just like Gillian, my mother was beside herself with worry. At first, she thought I was on drugs, but she quickly realised it was all about food. She would find sandwiches buried in the drawers of my desk, steaks languishing on the compost heap, attracting vermin. Once I even managed to pour soup out of my bedroom window right onto my father’s head. My father was in the garden, pruning roses. The soup was bean soup. My mum went into a spasm of hysteria. But even that had no effect on me.

Only when I saw a photo of myself in a bikini did I finally realise I was a walking skeleton. With clothes on, my sharp edges and protruding ribs were well camouflaged.

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But without my clothes… look at this at your own risk.

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I was horrified! I started eating: tentatively and with frequent relapses into 6 ½ stone. You’re never quite out of the danger zone. You’re never quite fully recovered. Any emotional trauma, any change of circumstances, any heightened anxiety and you’re back to square one.

In Nothing to Lose, Tara suffers a similar fate after she is rejected by that good for nothing Charlie Outhwaite.

Nothing to Lose is the second book in the DI Marsh crime series, available now on Amazon and from major bookstores. The book is available at a promotional price of £5.59 at WHSmith

Nothing to Lose cover

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Ageing disgracefully and with style

I put on the skates, and I am a little girl again: eight or ten at the most. The blades of my skates slice through the ice. I can hear a clank and a swoosh, the wind in my pompom, cheeks burning, cold air in my nostrils, expelled in rapid vapours, forming frosty droplets on my scarf. I’ve lost my gloves – again. My fingers are red numb claws. I perform a pirouette, the spikes of one of my skates are the pivot and I draw a circle with the other foot. The air can’t keep up with me. I halt, let it catch up, and proceed backwards, knees bent slightly, bum defying gravity as I draw curvy patters on the ice. Another twirl, and I launch forward. I used to be able to do this – I lift one leg, an arabesque begins to form, a bit floppy, like a penknife that I can’t quite fully open. But I gather speed – I’m a bird swooping down-

-and down I go.

The spikes on my blade catch on something; I am catapulted – briefly, given just enough time to realise that I’m going face down, crash landing into the unforgiving ice. Just enough time to twist in the air to save my face. Hip first. Knee caught halfway through a protective kick. And then the ribcage slams down.

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Someone asks me if I’m all right. I nod, but I’m lying. Too embarrassed to admit that my vision is blurred and the blood has drained from my brain, leaving me lightheaded and faint. Daughter drags me to a bench. ‘You told me to fall on my bum. Why didn’t you?’

Where was my big, cushioned bum when I needed it…

Today, the day after, I am no longer a little girl of eight or ten at the most. That girl would be back on ice despite those minor bruises. She wouldn’t even remember that fall. She has run away and I am left on my own: an old woman and her swollen knee, her cracked ribcage that hurts with every intake of breath, and a huge purple bruise on her hip. I can’t recall where and when the hip came into it.

Husband offers an anti-inflammatory painkiller and I say no. I refuse to grow old gracefully. Whenever would I take a painkiller after scathing a knee when I was eight! I am not going to start now. I suffer my debilitating aches and pains in dignified reticence.

I will be back to the ice rink next week. Wearing knee pads.