The headlines yesterday morning announced a new Miss America. Today, they told us that she once suffered from an eating disorder. There was a period when I was in high school that my priorities were about anything but self-care. I wasn’t destructive the way that you might hear about with high school students– I didn’t drink, do any drugs, smoke. I wasn’t sexually risky (‘no, not at all’ some former beau is now agreeing). What I was, however, was focused to a fault. Whatever I was working on during any given moment got my full attention. And there were always issues, causes, projects, things that I was working on. And when I was focused, I did the worst possible thing to my body– I forgot to eat, sleep, drink plenty of water. I just moved, acted, worked. The gravity of this situation became apparent to me one Thursday evening during my senior year when I went to dinner with a group that had been working on coordinating a convention for schools from fifteen states that we would be hosting that weekend at our school. When my dinner arrived, I inhaled the chicken fingers placed in front of me. “I am so hungry,” I said. One, two, three of them were gone in moments. And, then, the chicken revolted inside of me. I placed a hand on my stomach, ducked my head in nausea. “I am done. Does anyone want these? They just aren’t sitting right.” A friend across the table looked at me, curious. “When was the last time you ate?” I thought about it. Thought about food for what felt like the first time in weeks. “Tuesday,” I answered. “I last ate on Tuesday.” Hearing that answer horrified me and others at the table. On a scale the next week for the first time in months, maybe even years, I found out that I was 18% under my ideal minimum body weight. I was astonished. I hadn’t meant to lose weight. I wasn’t worried about my appearance. I just worried about other things so much more than I worried about caring for myself. A teacher approached me sometime during those weeks of revelation. “This,” she said– and we both knew that ‘this’ was the erasing of myself in order to maximize the time I had to be of service– “has got to stop.” And so it did. I worked over the course of six months to gain the almost 30 pounds I needed to gain to be at the minimum weight considered healthy for my size. While this experience was time driven and not weight driven, it did make me incredibly sensitive to the issue of eating disorders because I did know that my desire to do was driven by a sense that I wanted to be successful. And when you decide you want to be great at it all, something has to give. Too many of us give on self-care. So we have two things to talk about here, really, eating disorders and self-care.
Eating disorders, many will tell you, are an issue of a control, and this psychological disorder will affect as many as 3.7% of all women during their lifetime. Since we all have girls and women in our lives, it is important that we each learn more about the causes and symptoms. Check out these sites for more information: http://www.medicinenet.com/anorexia_nervosa/article.htm, http://www.anad.org/, http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org
Now, some thoughts on self care. I wish that I could say that that experience in high school was all I needed to understand the importance of self-care. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been the only lesson my body has sent me over time. I still struggle, even today, with working less and caring for myself more. But I do deliberately work on balance now. I say “no” to invitations to serve on committees or groups that I know are important but whose efforts are not my personal passion or do not play to what my skills are. I don’t feel obligated to say yes to every social event where I am invited. I try to be deliberate about what I offer because I know that my tendency is to offer everything which leaves my well empty. I let my loved ones know what I should be doing so that there are additional eyes watching out for me. I graciously accept help. I don’t do all of this right yet, but what I have learned is that life keeps handing you the lesson you need to learn until you learn it. Miss the message the first time and it ups the ante. The ante has been raised several times for me on the self-care message, and I know that I control whether or not the volume gets any louder. I am hoping that it won’t, but I now understand that I am the key to whether or not that happens.
PS How jealous are you of my prom dress?