A day in the life… (TW: discussion of eating disorder & behaviours)

5:30AM: The alarm goes off. Rolling over, you stare at it for a moment, debating whether to hit snooze… What’s the point when you’ve already been awake an hour? Sleep is an unfamiliar friend these days. Slowly, you push back the covers and stumble out of bed.

Making your way to the bathroom, the morning judgment awaits. Stripping down, you feel your hairs stand on end as the chill hits your exposed skin. You step onto the glass square and wait for the numbers to appear.

There is no good outcome these days. If the numbers are up, you have failed (according to the eating disorder) and you are moving forward (according to recovery). If they are down, the sides change.

The number flashes at you and you sigh as you step off, your stomach knotted and your mind already whirring, calculating what this means for the day.

You get dressed, pulling your once thick hair into a tiny bun, splashing water on your face, empty eyes and dark circles stare back at you, an empty shell of who you once were. Grabbing your water, you head to the gym.

6AM: The studio is nice and warm, a welcome relief as you are perpetually cold. For the next 45 minutes you sweat, you work. You relish the site of muscle lines and bones. There is a sense of satisfaction, almost even pride, at how strong you are, and at how much you push through. As the class goes on, your breathing louder in your ears, sounds around you are becoming muffled… a sign you are unwell, but you shove it away and press on. At the end, you walk out, relief washing over you with the cool air outside. As you walk home, the shakiness in your legs does not diminish. You realise you will have to eat something in order to continue on your day.

7AM: You open the pantry, staring at your options. Muesli? No, too many calories, not filling. Yoghurt? Too filling, too much food this early. Perhaps a protein bar? No, too many calories this early in the day – you don’t want to waste what you just did. In the end, 2 rice crackers win out – enough to stave off the shakiness, but not enough to be a catastrophic overspend in the calorie department.

7:15AM: As the cool shower water hits your skin you gradually increase the temperature, careful to not overheat and risk passing out. You slowly wash your hair, grimacing at the amount that is falling out in your hands. You notice your ribs, how visible they are or are not; and the bloat of your stomach. Inch by inch you evaluate and critique your body, admiring where muscle has formed and fat melted away, shaming where it still remains. Once complete you stand in your towel, staring again at your reflection. Who is this person you have become?

8AM: Packing a bag for work, to you the amount of food is excessive; to another it might be a couple of snacks. Each snack calculated to ensure the calorie budget is not exceeded, and that room remains for an unexpected coffee invitation.

9AM: You start your workday. The tasks in front of you seem overwhelming – it’s as if everything has become urgent and written in a foreign language. Routinely you must remind yourself to stop, take a deep breath, take a step back. You recognise that the intensity in your mind is higher than reality, but you don’t know how to turn the volume down.

10:30AM: It’s technically time for your snack… but you’re not hungry enough yet, so you have to wait. After all, if you wait long enough, snack time might be lunch time, and then you’ve saved calories. But you know you should eat. That every missed snack, every missed meal just keeps you stuck in this cycle. You pull the snack out of your bag & it sits in front of you for 15 minutes… taunting you. You argue with yourself… what do I want more? To be ill, or to be happy? Another voice chimes in, ‘but if you eat this you will gain a heap of weight’. You try and tell yourself this cannot possibly be true, while secretly afraid it is. Your mind flashes back to the scale this morning… Can you justify these calories? Today, you choose to push through and eat the snack. For the next hour as you continue to try and work you are riddled with anxiety, wondering whether you should have done that, and what will happen now, and how can you make up for it and will you get fat and have you lost control?

It is only noon, and you are already exhausted. There are still 4 more meals/snacks to go in this day. And this is just one day. You must do this, day in, day out, week in, week out… Fighting off the voices, fighting off the fear. Trying to wear the brave face and look happy and ‘normal’ to everyone else. Trying to be productive and complete your work, your studies. Trying to be present with your friends. All the while, wrestling these thoughts.

5:30PM: time to go home. You have to stop for groceries first, you remember. Arriving at the store, you brace as the knots in your stomach tighten. Fruit and vegetables first – they’re easy, or so it seems. But how many do you get? How much are you going to eat? Bananas are unsafe remember and beware the calories in grapes. Berries are good. Carrots and celery, cucumber too. You move on to the cereal aisle and you shudder – you start to look at the options but the anxiety induces so much nausea you have to rush out of that aisle. Maybe another day. You roam the bakery – nothing here either… although you would give anything to have fresh bread guilt free… well, almost. The biscuit aisle – here you find your staples. Rice crackers, multiple flavours, ready for your choosing. Then the muesli bars… each box examined – how many calories? How much sugar? Protein? Carbs? The guy stocking the shelves gives you a funny look as you examine each box, ultimately taking none because today nothing meets the requirements. Vitamins and pills… laxatives, multivitamin and diet pills now in your basket, buried under the few other items. Frantically you look around ensuring there is no one you know in sight. You continue on. Every aisle, every item calorie checked. After an hour you leave with your pills, fruit, vegetables and rice crackers. The anxiety lifts and shame floods in as you realise yet again the anorexia has outsmarted you.

6:30PM: it feels too early for dinner so you decide to take a quick walk around the block… “to clear your head”. While walking you also feel relief as you burn off any calories that may have infected you at the store. You know this is illogical and yet you still feel contaminated.

7pm: arriving home you cook your dinner of steamed vegetables and a single scrambled egg. You place it on a small plate so it looks gourmet, and proceed to your room to eat in peace. Shortly after finishing the guilt and panic set in. You check your weight… it’s up too much for the day, so you take some laxatives, knowing there goes another night of sleep.

8pm: you try to study or read but you find yourself recalculating all the calories of the day, and planning tomorrow. How can it be enough but not too much? How much will let you lose weight? What foods are low calorie and also light weight so they won’t sit too heavy on your stomach?

10pm: should start thinking of bed. But first, stretches and sit-ups and squats… the cat doesn’t know what to do and keeps attacking your feet, thinking this is a game.

10:30PM: getting ready for bed and evaluating yourself in the mirror again… disgust at how fat you now look from the bloating, how tired your eyes look. How tired you are… this life is no life at all. Turning off the lights you head to bed, but sleep does not come easily…

2AM: it feels as though you’ve only just fallen asleep but you are awake again. Your mind races but you can’t even identify the thoughts. You run your hands over your hipbones, relieved to feel some of the bloating has diminished. You reach up to count your ribs… how prominent are they? It feels as though they’re disappearing. You get up to use the bathroom, and check your weight… frustration builds as it seems that today you will have gained, despite being good. You go to bed, falling asleep with pleas of weight loss on your lips, waiting for the next day to begin.

And then there are the days of appointments.

The days where doctors tell you that you are/are not making progress, that your vitals are/are not stable. The days where you routinely hear that you need more support (but not where to find it), that you need to rise up even more than you are (but with no advice or tools as to how to do this). You hear nurses comment that they’d give anything to look like you. You hear others saying your weight is ok, so you just need to eat a few more calories – dismissing the anguish in your head. Some are good – some understand. Some try to meet you where you are and help you find the key to take that next step. Some offer hope. Some help you recognise that every meal you fight back is a victory, even if you fall over other times. That it is not about perfection, but progress. That the desire and the willingness to push through – to choose to live in this permanent exhausted state – that in itself is progress. You have friends who remind you that life is worth living. That tell you they love you, no matter what. You have friends who remind you who you really are – that you are more than the hollow shell in the mirror. Each of these friends, each of these professionals are all pivotal in helping you find your way home again. And one day, you hope, the battles at the meals will lessen, and maybe the trend of the scale will matter less (or even not at all). One day you will sleep through the night. One day, you will be fully living your life and realise how free you suddenly feel.

2 A.M.

The house is eerily quiet at 2am. From my bedroom upstairs I can hear the steady ticking of the clock down in the lounge room. I can hear the trams as they pass along nearby roads. But most of all, I can hear the thoughts raging in my mind.

It has been a long time since I have consistently slept a whole night through. Sometimes the sheer exhaustion wins out and I get a night of semi-refreshing sleep, but more often than not, I ‘keep watch’ from 2-4am. The darkest hours.

Distractions are few that time of morning, and I am left observing my body and my mind. I become aware of the beating of my heart – sometimes irregular if anxiety builds too high. I feel the expansion of my rib cage as I take deep breaths in attempts to lull myself back to sleep. There is a warmth at the small of my back, where my cat has curled up against me for the night. If I am still enough, I can feel the gentle brush of his fur while he breathes.

I run my hands along my ribs, feeling the indentations between each one. Are they deeper yet? Can I count each one? They slide down to my hips, feeling to see if they protrude. Is my stomach flat? Can I create a bridge from one hipbone to the other without feeling my stomach under my arm? There is something comforting about feeling my bones. It grounds me, reminding me that I am real.

In the midst of this battle with Anorexia I have lost myself, and I’m still in the process of rediscovery. But for now, I am lost in the ethereal; I have become a walking calculator – numbers – weights, calories, distances, grams, lab results, and so on. I have numbed out feelings. I have no interests, no preferences. I am a cold and calculated machine.

There is something that feels safe about being so cold and calculated. Predictable, perhaps. It is for this reason I fear the process of weight gain. It is not that I don’t value health, nor that I don’t agree that it is needed… but I fear the softness. I fear losing the sharp edges. It is as if the sharp edges of my bones are the only connection I have to being real, and to mask them under a softness is to lose the last of that which is me.

I do not have the answers yet. I wrestle with so many questions, and in this moment, faith seems silent on this matter. What I do know, what I will hold to, is the promise that dry bones can live*

*Ezekiel 37

Emmanuel – God with us

Usually I am one who loves Christmas – the festivities, the excitement and busyness, the memories and family and fun – but this year it just seems heavy. As I drove home from work tonight, I was listening to a Christmas album (Nichole Nordeman’s Fragile), and the song O Come, O Come Emmanuel started to play. This song has always been a favourite; there is something about the simultaneous hope and recognition of the waiting which I love.

As I was listening, I got to thinking about this concept – God with us. What does it mean, God with us? God with us in the waiting. God with us in the hoping. God with us in the darkest of night. I know so often when I am waiting for something, or when I am traversing through a dark season, “God with us” seems like it couldn’t be further from truth.

I started the song over, this time really listening to the lyrics:

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel

O come, Thou, Dayspring,
Come and cheer
Our spirits by thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadow put to flight
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel

O come, Desire of Nations, bind
In one, the hearts of all mankind
Bid thou our sad divisions cease
And be thyself our King of Peace
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel

Perhaps this year the song resonates more than other years, in a year when I approach Christmas completely spent. 2019 has not looked the way I thought it would at all. The year started with great hope and expectation – looking to the future and seeing the potential for some dreams to start being fulfilled. By March, things started to fall apart and by July, I found myself relapsed and back in hospital. Unfortunately, post discharge things continued to be a struggle, and in October I found myself being taken to hospital yet again.

Now it is December. I am exhausted, physically & mentally. My faith is faltering – not because I do not believe, but because I do not have the capacity to withstand any more storms or battles. I am weary. The night is long and dark. It has been silent for far too long.

Advent, the season of waiting in expectation, has begun. It feels signficant this year. Perhaps, in this season of silent darkness, the Saviour may enter in. Perhaps Salvation may again appear in the most insignificant and humble of settings, with no grand fanfare – just another ordinary day, another ordinary night. Amongst those who are weary from a journey. Weary from carrying the promise for so long. Weary from labouring. And yet, in amongst the weariness, hope was, and is, and can be birthed.

I do not know what the coming months or year holds. I do not have great ambitions at this point. I am broken and empty. Maybe this is the perfect setting for a Christmas miracle of my own. Maybe this is when, in the silence, rather than the fanfare of Christmas, I can experience “God with us”. God with me. I can experience what it is to have God with me in the dark of night, God with me in the doctor’s office, God with me as I face another meal, another anxiety. This is my prayer for this Christmas season – that in and through everything it holds, the good, the bad and the in-between, that there would be a sense of God with us. That I would truly come to know Him as Emmanuel.

The light is dim, the coolness in the air cuts to the bone. The musty smell of wet sand and stagnant pools assault the senses. Jagged edges of rocks and ledges take form as your eyes slowly adjust to the darkness. In the distance a faint glimmer of light beckons you, signalling the way out of this dead place.

The ground sludges as layers of damp sand give way beneath your feet; sloshing sounds echo as water is released under the weight of each step. The dampness in the air penetrates to the very core; a shiver runs down your spine as you stumble on the uneven footing.

Suddenly, the glimmer of light is whisked away and a deafening roar overtakes you; with brutal shock icy waves break over you. Losing touch of the ground, you are tossed about, floundering, gasping for breath – unable to see the way up, or out, or even the obstacles ahead.

As suddenly as it began, the water recedes, and you once again have your feet on the ground. The glimmer of light appears again, this time a little to the left. You reorient, and continue on, taking tentative steps, shivering in the cold.

Determined not to be taken by surprise again, you are ever watching, straining to hear any signs of what is to come. Dread fills you as you hear the roar of another wave rapidly rushing in. The fear is almost worse than the wave itself, you frantically search for something to grab hold of in sheer desperation, but again you lose the ground – swirled around in the darkness.

It is relentless – a few more steps, another wave. Each advance seems to make no lasting dent as wave after wave knocks you off your feet, steals the breath from your lungs, leaving you even more exhausted than before.

Despair sets in as you realise your only hope is to keep walking directly into the waves. The only way out is to allow them to knock you down, to send you into chaos again, and again, and again, as you slowly make your way to the entrance of the cave.

As the next wave hits you wonder, is it better to walk back to where it was drier, to where the waves could not reach you? You decide to return there, thinking that perhaps if you just dry off a bit, recover your breath, then you will be ready to take this walk. As you make your way back, the darkness thickens, the dampness grows heavier; you realise that you cannot return to where you were, there is no warmth or life in that place. To return is to be entombed in the darkness.

You turn back towards the entrance, with weary resignation. Walking back means facing the waves as they grow bigger and stronger. It feels as though everything is against you – the rocky edges are too slippery to hold, there is nowhere to anchor yourself. You must simply surrender to the waves. Allow them to push you further into the cave, and then, to suck you back towards the sea. Resistance is futile.

It feels so illogical, to surrender to waves, to allow them to toss you about recklessly, swirling in the darkness; but if you can find it within you to stop resisting, they will slowly carry you closer to freedom. In between their onslaught you are able to take a few determined steps, avoiding obvious obstacles, preparing yourself to let go and surrender once again.

The fear is tangible, it is as though at any moment this will be the end, you will be engulfed, drowned in the chaos. Despite the fear you keep moving, the entrance drawing nearer; freedom begins to be conceivable. As you continue, bit by bit, you find more solid footing. In this place, the waves still hit you, but they no longer carry you away. You find yourself able to stay standing in them. With each forward stride, and pause to stand sure against the coming waves, you slowly find they are getting shallower. You do not have to pause as long between sets, and eventually, they merely lap your ankles as you are able to walk safely along the shore. It is here, on the dry ground, that you appreciate the beauty of the sea, and it is here, beside the very thing that nearly destroyed you, that you can finally rest.

Original post: The Cavern

The Cavern: A Metaphor