A couple weeks ago, we went to see Oscar Shorts at the theater. This particular showing included two serious documentaries. One was about the VA’s only suicide hotline in the entire country and the other one was a Polish film with English sub-titles about a family and the mother who was dying of cancer.
They were both well-done but the Polish one was very artistic and made more of an impression on me.
It was very intimate. The dying mother was trying to cram a lifetime of mothering into about three months. Her son was only about 7 or 8. She treated him as an equal. They had some very adult conversations that actually made me uncomfortable. But these conversations were very, very honest and I imagine the little boy will treasure them always.
The other thing about this film that still intrigues me was my reaction to how thin the dying mother was. She might have always been a slim woman, but her illness took away any extra weight she might have once carried around. She always wore a large, light-weight scarf around her shoulders and layers of clothes that kind of hung on her frame. I saw that and kept thinking, I want to be that thin.
I was that thin a couple years ago when I quit the terrible job.
It started in the usual way for me. Stress often gives me an upset stomach. When I have prolonged periods of stress, my stomach always feels bad and my first thought is always, must be I’m eating too much dairy or too much fat or too much sugar.
I never think, oh, there is too much stress in my life and I should make changes in the stressful areas.
Instead, I will cut out most dairy first. If that doesn’t soothe my belly, I will cut food portions in half. The last thing I would cut out is sweets because I love them so much. But I have done that, too.
Something along those lines happened to me when we were first starting out as very young adults with an infant. Part of the eating problem then was lack of funds to buy food with. I weighed 85 pounds during the worst of that. It felt like I was disappearing but it didn’t scare me. I liked that feeling.
It happened again several years later when I took a prescription that messed up my stomach for real. I probably got down to 95 pounds that time.
The next time it happened was when I had a job I loved but my boss turned out to be a narcissist. That time I can now recognize as anorexia lite. At the time I still thought it was a stomach thing rather than a stress thing. In hindsight, it was the stress. I probably got down to between 100 and 105.
The final time began in December 2012. I was still at the terrible job and everything wrong in that place pretty much came to a head that December. There was not one moment at work that month which felt right or satisfying or even hopeful. There was not one thing to look forward to and zero Christmas spirit on top of it all.
My hours had slowly turned into overtime every single day and no breaks. My hour and half for lunch turned into half an hour. And I didn’t get to leave for lunch until I had been at work, and working non-stop, for almost six hours. By that time I was beyond pissed. I wouldn’t have had much of a breakfast because I had started using that extra time to sleep a bit more. By 2:30 each afternoon, I was starving and pissed. So, I’d go to Wendy’s and shove some food in my mouth then throw away some of it and head back to work.
Then in January my uncle got very ill. He was the last living member of my father’s family and so this was a big deal to me. We went up to the hospital to visit him twice and I was glad we did. But there was an outbreak of flu during that time. I didn’t take it seriously, because I NEVER get sick.
Except this time I did get sick. I was quite sick for over a week. I ate very little during that time because I couldn’t. I also took very little time off from work because I thought I shouldn’t.
A month later my uncle died during my one week of vacation.
Then I got sick again for over a week and again ate very little and again took very little time off work.
I knew by then I was losing weight because my clothes began to hang on me and people were noticing it. My hair was thinner. My face looked exhausted. I didn’t think to weigh myself on the freight scale at work. Everybody used to do that, including me, but during this time period I guess I was avoiding the scale. I was in my own little world then.
I got kind of mesmerized by how I felt. My stomach felt so good being empty. No bloating, no gas, no queasiness. I felt so light and small and compact. It felt right not to take up so much room. I felt kind of powerful on some level. If I felt hungry, I could trick myself by focusing on how good my stomach felt when it was empty and it made me not want to ruin that sensation. Though I figured I didn’t look really good, I felt really good in my gut. I liked it.
And that’s what I remembered, and missed, when I watched that dying mother on the movie screen.
After I quit the terrible job, I took myself clothes shopping while we still had some money to spend “freely”. I was thinking I should get some new bras since I was kind of swimming in the old ones. And I caught a glimpse of myself at just the right angle in the dressing room mirror. My thoughts were, I look frail, I look elderly, and that’s probably not a good thing. This is probably not healthy. I should probably try to be healthy.
But I didn’t really want to. In clothes, I actually looked pretty good. And it felt sooooo good to be thinner and lighter and have that empty, flat stomach. So, I was torn.
As it turns out a year and a half later, unless I am under incredible stress, I don’t really have what it takes to go the full-blown anorexia route. Since we don’t own a scale, I don’t know what I weigh but it is obvious that I have gained back everything I lost. It took longer than I expected it to. But it happened kind of on its own.
I’m not happy with how I look and feel now. My challenge is to find the middle ground. Well, actually my real challenge is to find the beginning.
I still have to find out what is really me versus what I have picked up over the years and incorporated just to please others and “get along” with the rest of the world. And then I have to be okay with “what is really me”.
The dying mother in the film knew the answers to those questions in her life and she did what she could in the time she had left. I’ve met lots of people who also seem to have the answers to those questions in their lives and I imagine they are mostly happy or at least content most of the time. That’s what I want for my life.