and that sweet city with her dreaming spires

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i went to oxford this week. although i’ve been there a few times (and, come to think of it, worked on a project there for a couple of months), it’s not a city i know well at all. i went to the other place and, when i was choosing universities, i never really considered oxford. i don’t know why. it’s not like my heart was set on cambridge at all.

i had a pretty miserable time at university. i didn’t mind the work and wish i’d spent more time taking advantage of the academic opportunities but i wasn’t really happy. part of that was down to what, with the benefit of hindsight, i know see was a very emotionally abusive relationship. part of it was down to the claustrophobic nature of cambridge itself. part of it was that i just missed feeling at home somewhere. i never felt at home in cambridge and i’ve realised, particularly over the last few months, how much i need that feeling of security and safety.

it was also the place where i first suffered from anorexia even if i didn’t know or acknowledge it at the time. to me, it was all just part of the madness of those years. disordered eating habits had been part of my life for longer – since my early teens really – but university was really the time when this pattern of trying to control the uncontrollable really kicked in.

so, it was weird being in oxford this week. so many of the buildings look so familiar to those in cambridge that it felt like i was back there and the world had just tilted a little. i was in oxford to take part in an academic study on how women with and without eating disorders perceive bodies (both their own and other people’s). it involved several computer based tests which would be almost impossible to describe and i deliberately didn’t think too hard about what the tests were trying to show so that i didn’t mess up the study at all. it also involved an interview with a psychiatrist and going through the eating disorder examination questionnaire. i’ve never officially done this before (my old psychiatrist didn’t seem fussed by my eating disorder; my new one prefers just to discuss things rather than fill in questionnaires).

whilst i am partial to an online test and have probably done thousands of ‘do you have an eating disorder?’ tests in the past, even i was surprised at my responses and how strongly i scored on the anorexia scale. i answered ‘every day’ or ‘markedly’ to every question whether it was how often i restricted my food and how frequently thinking about food meant that i couldn’t concentrate or whether it was how guilty i felt about eating or how i judged myself on my weight.

i said to my psychiatrist this week that i don’t think i’ve grasped yet that i have a problem. i think i’m beginning to do so.

{title quotation from thyrsis by matthew arnold}

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