Iowa City: A post for memory’s sake & for eating disorder awareness

I believe that memories are held within our bodies, in a way. Walking down the halls of the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, and I feel those memories stir. Here with my mom and step dad for her next round of tests, and it’s startling how memories trigger from that bend of the hallway or this elevator. Did you know that I lived here for 35 days? 10 years ago exactly, as a matter of fact. I think, selfishly, this is part of my reason for coming today on my last day of spring break. The ten year anniversary of life saving eating disorder treatment is a big deal.
It’s been on my mind a lot lately. Something about this ten year mark seems significant. The treatment, the disorder and the battle to recover, no longer seem like yesterday. They don’t haunt me anymore, and they don’t identify me anymore. This is good, I suppose; this is part of recovery. I think it means that I made it into the third of anorexics that fully recover (as opposed to the third that cycles through their whole lives or the third that, frankly, dies). But I don’t want to forget. I’m a little scared of forgetting. It was major. I nearly died. 87 pounds. Slow, slow heart. Numb. Despair. Darkness. Fear. The events leading up to treatment were hell. The first day of treatment wasn’t that different.

“I don’t belong here.” A security door like I’d never seen. Through the rectangular window, chicken wire in glass, bodies moving around. More like zombies than friendly souls. Sharon, a large woman prone to uttering loud moans, would become comical to me later. A wiry, crazy (a word I came to despise) haired man. Scary. More chicken wire glass separating the central nurses station from them/us. Lockers. They open my bags, pull out paraphernalia. Spiral bound notebooks are a no, they can be used for self harm. Self what? So much to learn. No razors, we’ll loan you one if you need it. A smoking room off a lounge area that looks much like any waiting room in any hospital. A cafeteria with a meeting room adjacent, in there for my evaluation. A round table. A group of white lab coats. Questions, questions, “My, your cognitive ability is surprising!” (You shouldn’t be alive). To my room. One to myself, but no refuge yet. Have to pee? All EDOs go at the same time, leave the door cracked, no trust. You haven’t earned it. My first meal, Melisa’s too, she’s also new. I was ready to heal and move on, but it was so small and bland; remember the soldiers and the concentration camp victims. No candy bars, the system can’t handle it. Wiped my mouth with a napkin, but that got me scolded. “Too much pasta sauce on the napkin, could be trying to eat less.” Don’t these people understand that I am here because I want to gain weight?

At least that was the easy part. I did gain weight, and relatively quickly, and it didn’t bother me. I would see girls with thick thighs and strong arms and be jealous. I wanted to look like that, to be normal, to be healthy. To be free of the beast that had held me in it’s grip of deception.
Calling mom on my first night, weeping. Grateful to have my own room, though they took that away the next day. Roommates varied. Switched up a lot. Some joyful, some, like Karen who had chrons disease, a colostomy bag, and little mental ability, were more trying. What was that girl’s name who worked at Whiteys in the quad cities? She was so happy. Stephanie and Sarah M. – just a little older than me, definitely cooler. They were the wise ones, who knew how to get through the program fast. I don’t know that they were the healthiest, but they respected my genuine desire to get well. Jason. So sad, so lonely. He’s dead now. His mom found him in his bed. Cardiac arrest. He’s of that third. Sarah J. Waspy. Desperate. Alive? Melisa will always be in my heart. We started the same day. She was stubborn in the opposite route, she was tubed for a while. I respected that, in a strange way.

Initially, I was too low weight to go do the recreational things. To leave the ward. Little things like drumming fingers or twiddling thumbs were taboo; burned calories. None to spare. Leg crossing was out, as bony knees pinch nerves & circulation. Bony bums are problematic, but the solution was inflatable donuts to sit on. We carried them everywhere. Sitting in the big, vinyl recliner in the tv room. Reading. I received composition notebooks to replace my spiral bounds. I wrote furiously, my life’s story, desperate to find clues to how I wound up here. I remember sharing this with one of the nurses. She was very encouraging.
The nurses. They were the brightest light in that dark place. The doctors were okay, but constantly rotating out and dealing with us much the same as the mood disorder and suicide watch patients we shared the ward with. The nurses were caring. Encouraging. Matter of fact in all the right places. There was a crew of younger ones. I can see them, but I don’t remember their names. The one girl would eat bacon off the trays of the MDO patients. It was cute. The bigger girl, who had read my notebooks, arranged a movie night for us. Dirty Dancing. We laid on yoga mats in the cafeteria floor and ate popcorn. They were good people.
The MDO patients. There was a tall, skinny, crazy haired guy who came in to get off heroin. He was a rock star, I assumed. Wasn’t there long. He gave me a pink plastic hair come before he left. Though our interactions were minimal, he told me I was a light in that place. I know I smiled a lot. I know I cared about the MDO patients a lot. Funny, considering how terrifying and inhuman they were to me at first.

Did you know they still do electric shock therapy? They show those patients a video first, to explain in excruciating detail what it entails. Some still agree. How dark are your thoughts that you willingly subject yourself to this? There was one guy in particular who went. I think I saw him at the dmv when I was there last, actually. His face will always be with me. He wasn’t of many words. His face was tired. His eyes were deep. I was drawing pictures in my free time by this point. I’d draw animals on card stock with colored pencils and give them to my ward-mates. He requested one before he left for the treatment, and I drew it. He was wheeled back in, quite visibly fried. Disappeared into his room for a couple of days. Awful. He did return, if not fully. He recognized and appreciated the drawing, but I missed the pre-shock therapy him.

Group therapy sessions in the cafeteria. Different counselors. Kay, with her long red hair and gypsy skirts, was my favorite and least all at once. She took no bullshit, but she also wasn’t always correct in her assumptions. She was my aftercare psychologist for awhile, but her distrust of my motives disgusted me. I didn’t return after my first visit.

Trips to the library. We could stop at the coffee bar. Get a monster cookie, it has the most calories. “Food is medicine, and the faster you gain, the sooner you get freedom.” Steph and Sarah wisdom. Funnily enough, I never counted calories until then. Never even thought of it.

Bingo night! Always off the ward. Prizes, like beanie babies. We’d win them for one another. It was more fun than you can probably imagine or than I can explain.

Working out was part of the routine, too. Gentle aerobics at a gym. A girl I went to high school with was there once, her husband was our current doc, she was helping. It was strange. There was shyness yet confidence on both sides, I think. We are Facebook friends now. She loves Jesus. That helps.

Water aerobics were interesting. I liked them, and for once didn’t care aboutt being seen in a swimsuit. That environment, where our bodies were clinically objectified in many ways, made me love and appreciate every inch of my skin and all that lies beneath more than ever. We also walked across campus to a weight training barn type place once. That was fun.

The occupational therapist, Michelle, was the coolest person I’d met. Her office was like an apartment, complete with kitchen. A benchmark of inpatient treatment was getting to go meal plan, grocery shop, cook and eat in her office. Sarah M. took charge of planning the meal. I loved it there. We also went to the New Pioneer Co-op and then picnicked with Michelle. Went to a fancy dinner with Kay and Sarah J. to practice not being afraid of menus, I guess. Always happy and educational times. I questioned Michelle thoroughly about her work, learned she also worked with MDO patients, knew that was something I wanted to do. She may be the primary reason I went to undergrad, even though I changed majors.

Easter Sunday service in the hospital. My pastor came to visit, which encouraged me so, so much. I mattered. People wanted me well. Cards came often, and I have them still. A church camp friend whom I hadn’t heard from, got every girl in her dorm to sign a get well poster for me.

Entered inpatient in February but we had a warm March. The first time I went outside again, all of us, was on a patio of the hospital after dark. Fresh air, stars and birds.

By the time outpatient came, 35 days in, walks with Steph and Sarah. One long one into the ped mall. Ice cream to fit the prescription. Living in the Ronald McDonald house. A blessing. Cozy. Rows of kitchens, always fully stocked. Two other EDO patients, from the pediatric unit. A pretty blonde thing and a guy who was only a few months younger than me. I was so attracted to him, it was scary. I had not felt much for months, and suddenly all of the systems were working again, and hormones were working again. It was like being 13 and 30 all at once. I stayed up all night on his last night, and bawled the next morning after he left. We hugged, we sat too close on the couch watching TV, but that was it. I appreciate him, though. And how he made me see what we are supposed to feel.

Aunt Wendie stayed with me a lot during that time. So grateful. She loved me fiercely, and empathetically. She would not put up with BS, and it was nice to have that personality around. Mom stayed most of the time, commuting to work in Des Moines every day. I just learned this morning that her bosses paid her for 8-5, even though she was only there from 10-2. Her ferocious love for me during that time sustained me. She did whatever it took. She fought for her baby girl.

I don’t remember the daily rounds of outpatient as clearly. I can vaguely picture the room. A large one, with tile and cafeteria tables. I’m sure many of the field trips that I remember actually occurred during this phase. I remember the doctors being hell bent convinced that I was constipated due to an overnight weight gain of seven pounds during inpatient. By the time I was in partial we had reached the last straw. A milk and molasses enema. Which is exactly what it sounds like. It was comically disgusting. And ineffective. Either that blockage is still in me, or it never was. Given how much prayer I was throwing out to get through inpatient quickly, I think it was divine weight gain.

Frank was the program director or something similar. He decided to release me from care early. I remember sitting in his office with my parents. He gave me the anorexic thirds statistic. He told me, in his business man-ly way, that he believed I was in the recovery third. That the current docs were pushing people through the program too quickly. That I was a leader of the patients, but they were sucking too much of my energy. That they might pull me down. It was time for me to go. I was ready.

It was relieving to be going, but also scary. During inpatient, I had felt led to live with my grandparents that summer. I knew my home environment wasn’t healthy because of my parents separations and I needed a fresh start. I remember my brother, who was twenty and out of the house at that point, coming to a family therapy session. He cried. He doesn’t, often. It was very affecting. I hate how much hurt was caused by my selfish descent into anorexia. I still┬áthink about friendships that were ended that maybe should not have been. But I cannot take it back.

And the changes in me, however destructively begun, were constructively wrought into valuable characteristics. I became much more responsible. Maybe even responsible period. I learned how to advocate for myself, and to know when it really mattered. I became tidier and more appreciative and respectful of my loved ones. I lost a deep selfishness. I became consciously dependent on The Lord. I sought truth and found this creator god who understood flesh and blood. A spirit I could feel and find comfort and strength in. I became disciplined. I lost a wall of us and them and found a lifelong appreciation for those of us with mental issues. I realized without test scores that I was intelligent and capable. I discovered learning, and my love for it.
The treatment process was in many ways a necessary evil, but what I gained from it was so much more than 35 pounds. On this ten year anniversary, as I still find myself wishing for skinnier legs from time to time or a concave tummy, I rejoice in my freedom. My two degrees, my husband, my community, my very life. Without those strange few months ten years ago, a very different, much less grown woman would be sitting here.
Thank you, Jesus.

As of Yet, Untitled

Twenty some students are sitting at their desks, hunched over their work as they synthesize a video we just watched, an article they have read, and a writing checklist to complete a written portion of a unit exam.

I have my own writing tasks waiting for me, for my part-time (could-be full-time?) gig.

I am writing at this moment (which should be apparent).

As I near graduation, I find myself crunching numbers to see what income will be required to pay off my student loans in 5 years or less. I find myself looking at homes for sale in specific Des Moines neighborhoods. I find myself searching AEA websites for open teaching positions. I find myself wondering what my future will and should precisely look like. After all, just because I will have my teaching degree and certificate, doesn’t mean that I have to (or even will be hired to) teach. That’s a reality I feel is healthy to accept.

So in this meantime of wondering, I dream. I pray. I try not to plan too much.

When I reflect on what my ideal future would be, it always comes down to two things: writing and students.

Writing has always come so easily to me, so fulfilling and yet draining to me…it’s me. I am a writer. I don’t need external validation to know that the written word is intertwined with my identity. That being said, my words or ways with them have always had an audience. (Ironically, this blog – this heartpouring of my me-ness, boasts the tiniest of audiences.) Anyway, I know that it is something I good at, and as such it seems selfish and wasteful to NOT pursue it with every chance I get. I have spent most of my professional writing career writing for others. I’ve written articles for newspapers and websites. I’ve written thousands of item descriptions. I wrote TV commercial scripts for years. I’ve written newsletters. I’ve written web content for clients as varied as a British chiropractor to a bicycle brand to a local bar and venue. If words were pieces of me, I’d be global, and I’d be spread thin. That’s all very exciting, yet if I were to pursue writing, it wouldn’t be on those terms anymore. It couldn’t. That’s done. Although my own voice and thoughts rarely get lauds to equal my content writing, that is the kind of writing that could hold a future for me. Finishing my works of fiction, continuing my lifestyle/life lessons writing. Venturing into more developed and precise essays. That could be a life.

Snapshot of Begonia (a fairy tale I've been writing since I was a child. Tragic.)

Snapshot of Begonia (a fairy tale I’ve been writing since I was a child. Tragic.)

My students. I have never had my own classroom of students in the traditional sense. Student teaching is the closest I’ve been, but it’s much the same as when I was a substitute. The students of this district are important to me. The students of this nation are. I feel very passionate about the public school system. Whether you want to write it off as a black and white issue, broken or blessed, is not really that important to me. As an insider, I know that the public school system is here and it needs hard-working, dedicated, and caring people. Students need teachers who care enough about them to give them equal opportunities to succeed and to fail academically. They need teachers who are intentional in their craft; passionate about their content area and about meaningful learning. Our students need teachers who see and value them as individuals. I have felt convicted since my first semester as a substitute teacher that my work here is orphan care. Many of these students may not be orphans in the most literal sense, but many are neglected, forgotten, and otherwise uncared for. They receive their nourishment at school. Their meals, yes, but also the guidance and modeling about what it means to exist and participate in our world. Public school is where they learn how they will survive. Our students need teachers who will equip them with the right tools and compass to navigate life. They need hope, encouragement, and discipline.

How can I ignore the compelling force to write?

How can I ignore the needs of our orphans?

These rhetorical questions reverberate in my head and in my heart often these days. I don’t have to decide this today. Or tomorrow. In fact, some of it may be decided for me. I will apply for teaching jobs. I will always write, regardless of how much and for what compensation. For now, my future remains untitled.

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A Conversation, A Video, & Mild Irritation

Confession: I had a post drafted, and it disappeared.

I’m superstitious in spite of myself, so I’m going to take that as a sign to start over.

I have hives. I have them at this moment. They’ll be gone by morning, if the pattern holds true. They may or may not show up again, as they are sporadic. They itch a little bit, but mostly they are a mental battle.

My dear friend Mandy revealed some insight the other day. In a conversation about hypochondriacs (me), she stated that she could understand “overreacting” to seemingly small symptoms if one had a health history of underlying big problems. It was actually something I hadn’t thought of before, and it was healing, restoring, to hear.

Sunday, during a video before the sermon that urged us to shake off death’s shroud and live, I had a deep conviction. The thing is, I’ve had a lot of close calls in my day. From the doctor who delivered me saying “I’ve never seen this in a live birth before!” Instead of “it’s a girl!” I’ve narrowly escaped death 3 times that I know of. This lifelong knowledge of mine has manifested itself in a mindset that death is chasing me, that this is my lot in life, and it wasn’t until Sunday that it hit me that instead of cheating death and being one step ahead of satan….that maybe God has been showing me time and time again that he is the author of life. That He has the final say.

Maybe it’s the hives talking, maybe it’s the whiskey*, but this week I’ve learned that whether I have some crazy death curse chasing after me or whether I’m just a hypochondriac, I’ve got nothing to fear. Being joyful when gross red itchy bumps appear on my spine and arms isn’t likely to happen any time soon, but I’m not hovering in fear, certain that some terrifying cause is underneath it all.

It turns out mild irritation is what me trusting God looks like in weird health situations. Given my track record, this counts as growth.

*I only had one whiskey ginger ale, so it’s probably not talking.

Caledonia

I’m in a dreamy mood
Which means I’m building castles in the air
Or rather
A stone cottage
A stones throw away
From the sea.
( for you and me)

I’ll spend my days writing fairy tales
And singing to our children
You’ll be out riding bikes with the locals
And working with your hands somehow

Every evening we’ll eat by the fireplace
With the sounds of sheep
Of the sea
Of the often-present rain
As our backdrop.

We’ll weekend to castles
(Not the kind made of air)
We’ll journey to Edinburgh -
They’ll know our faces there.

We’d know all the lochs
And sample every still
If our home were Caledonia…
Maybe someday, we will.image