Touch and Go

My place of employment is open now, but I'm not there. None of the choices feel good.
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The writer at home with her dog, Laser.

“Rest. Take a break from running. Try swimming. Listen to your body.”

The words flew out of my mouth, day after day, to my massage clients. I wanted them to feel better, and so I helped interpret what their bodies were trying to tell them through the language of screaming hamstrings, stuck necks, twisted spines and unsteady feet.

And yet, I hadn’t got the message myself. I was not listening to my body. I was listening to my eating disorder—my loud, 27-year-old, quite-confident-in-its-role-in-my-life eating disorder. And what it was telling me was to keep running, to lunch on Skittles, to avoid dinner parties, to stay firmly in the rut and to ignore the needs of my body. All day long, I asked people how they felt and I had no idea how I did.

Three years ago, a hamstring injury put me on the couch. It wasn’t even the worst of my overuse injuries, but it was the proverbial straw. Lying there, I couldn’t ignore the fact that my eating disorder had stopped working for me. What began as a coping mechanism had become a way of life.

For a time, my eating disorder had given me this protective bubble—a feeling that as long I could control my body through restricting, purging and over-exercise, I would be OK. What I realized, finally, is that I was powerless. The bubble was an isolation chamber, forcing me to live a lie. I was in pain, emotionally and physically.

My first step was putting my massage practice on hold. My next was checking into a residential eating disorder treatment center in November 2017.

In treatment, I learned a lot about my relationship with risk. When I met with the center’s doctor, she told me I’d almost had to be admitted to the hospital because my heart rate was so dangerously low. I had invested a lot of time in nurturing my eating disorder because it made me feel safe. It could have killed me.

During the pandemic, I have learned much more. To live with an eating disorder is to ignore countless warning signs—aches, pains, lost teeth, lost friends, brittle hair, gastrointestinal issues, extreme mood swings, constant coldness—that you are hurting yourself. To live in the time of a pandemic requires heightened attention to those warning signs.

Recovery is about feeling all of your feelings, observing them and honoring them. There’s plenty to feel right now: anxious, stressed, stuck and frustrated by the lack of guidance. Scared about our health and the health of our families and businesses. Angry about injustice—and, for those of us who are White, conflicted, guilty and shameful about our role in that injustice.

Categories: Covid Chronicles