At times when I was very ill, I made every effort to avoid food. It was normal to throw it out or lie to my friends and family about having eaten, However this was against my personal values. I would have never imagined that I would throw food out when there were people in the world who couldn’t find food to eat. I never thought I would lie to my loved ones! Yet, here I was, doing these things. Why? What was happening to me?
When you flip through the fashion magazines, you won’t find my body anywhere. When you watch TV, you might see me as a background character, meant to offer inspiration to the show’s main hero. I am the woman with a visible physical disability. You probably see my wheelchair, my cane, and my guide dog. Or you may notice my scars, my speech impediment, and my caregivers…yet, in many ways, I am invisible.
Does anyone else remember learning the “golden rule” in elementary school? It was in my second grade classroom written in yellow cursive, on royal purple card stock. “Do onto others as you would have others do onto you”. Yes, this is an extremely valuable lesson to teach young kids because the human nature of adolescents is more concerned in doing things that benefit themselves over classmates, siblings and parents.
People are usually their own worst critic. This is because we live in a culture that breeds constant competition by encouraging people from a young age to be “the best.” This often leads to our self-worth being determined by how we rank in social comparisons. We compare everything from education, grades, jobs, incomes, partners, houses, families, clothing, popularity levels, to appearances.
When I was in the 10th grade, like most students, I started thinking about what I was going to do after high school. However, unlike many high school students, I was concerned about who was going to help me get ready every morning once I moved out of my parents’ home. I have muscular dystrophy, a progressive muscle wasting disease that impacts the muscles in both my legs and arms. I had been just two years shy of using a wheelchair at that point. Going from standing to sitting all day, I had gained some weight. And weight gain for a disabled woman, I learned, was not an option.
Talking to a friend recently about what it means to have an interior life, I realized how seldom this phrase is heard nowadays or used outside of clinical circles. Yet, having a rich “interior life” may be key to finding meaning and happiness in our existence and undoubtedly promotes emotional health and “normal” eating.
All survivors have their war stories and I am no exception. In my case, the battlefield was my body and the enemy was the bully in my head, the mean girl who told me I was fat. Today she is known as #Mia – Twitterspeak for bulimia.
My eating disorder wasn’t a phase. It was a disease born in the corners of my mind that caused me to cycle through endless episodes of bingeing, purging and starvation. I could talk to no one about Mia, because the injurious words that she could wield were still better than the label I would be assigned if anyone knew my secret.
When you’re younger, you’re told you should follow your dreams. I always took that to heart and believe that if I had the power to do anything, than why not spend my time doing something that I love? Part of following your dreams means taking risks, and when I was a kid I was teased and I had practically zero self-confidence. Additionally, I was also slightly overweight at the time, which caused me to analyze and pick apart everything about how I looked. So even when opportunities came my way, I was too self conscious to even think about going for it.
I have always been a small guy. Genetically, I will never be bulky or muscular… it’s just not in the cards for me. Throughout my school years, I was always referred to as “that really skinny guy” or “skeleton.” Some people even questioned if my parents were not feeding me enough. Even today, when I am twenty four years old and at university, one of the first things people notice about me is how thin I am. I’m certainly not the skinniest guy out there, but in an age where guys are expected to be big and muscular, I am an outsider.
I am sitting, legs crossed on the sidewalk of an outdoor café in Old Montreal, the dew covering my skin from yoga class lifting into the summer night as the sun’s final salutations bow low against the ancient architecture of the Vieux-Port. A Canadian flag flutters the only hint of color against the tawny-gray buildings whose crevices bear the stories of the ancients, the steady clip-clop of a Clydesdale horse carrying the promise of romance to the drones of people who like me have come here to be swept away.