Don’t get me wrong. My parents are quite lovely individuals, and did the best they could with whatever resources they had to help me grow into a thoughtful and loving person. As a parent myself, I realize that yes, my father’s advice in telling me not to cry may have not been the best, but he was also faced with quite the predicament.
How can a person still be strong in the midst of one’s life falling apart?
Not showing emotion was my father’s way of coping. I, on the other hand, flew back home with my dad (I distinctly remembering getting a strawberry Jamba Juice before embarking on the plane and thinking I was making a great lunch choice because, well, fruits are HEALTHY), and immediately got started on Operation Slim Thighs. Since my dad went straight to the hospital and I was left at home to eventually meet him after my mother’s surgery, I made a mental list of do’s and don’ts for myself:
Run in the morning for at least 30 minutes (no less otherwise it wouldn’t count as a run)
Complete 50 reps of leg lifts and other assorted thigh slimming exercises. And crunches. Of course.
Eat Healthy Choice cereal for breakfast and lunch and then MAYBE eat something small for dinner.
Drink water. Lots and lots of water.
Eat any kind of dessert. Ever.
Eat any kind of meat besides fish. And tofu.
Eat more than 10 grams of fat a day (Why 10? I’m not sure. At the time it seemed like a good number.).
I attempted to follow those rules that day, but by the time I met my dad at the hospital for dinner I was ready to inhale the entire sandwich and hot food bar line. I “gave in” and ate a chocolate chip cookie after swallowing down a tuna sandwich and remember berating myself that I was “weak” and “lacked self control.” I vowed to be stricter with my diet the following day, and for the next, oh, 5 years or so, basically adhered to the rules listed above…of course with the running minutes increasing every day, so that after awhile hitting the pavement for an hour or two was nothing.
Eating disorders are such a mind suck. I know a lot more occurred after that summer day, but oddly enough, I don’t remember it. I’m not sure what it was like when my mother was released to the comfort of her own bed at home, and I definitely don’t remember my first day of my senior year of high school (we started the first quarter pretty soon after my mother’s surgery).
However, there are two images I clearly remember from that first day of Operation Slim Thighs: one is of my mother being wheeled from the recovery room to her hospital room, the smell of ammonia and medicine making me sick to my stomach, her pale hand weakly waving to me as her eyelids drooped with fatigue. The other is after my morning run, as I stood on the peeling kitchen linoleum, small droplets of sweat falling around my feet, a blue bowl filled with cardboard cornflakes on the counter in front of me.
In the kitchen, I felt calm and euphoric.
In the hospital, I felt like I wanted to crumble to the floor in agony.
It’s quite easy to see that I used exercise and food restriction to avoid feeling the pain and fear associated with seeing my mom gravely ill. In hindsight, that image is quite clear. At the time, however, all I knew was that the run plus cereal soothed the gnawing pit of anxiety in my stomach, and that I needed more.