Some of the memories I have of being a Music Education major at the University of Southern California are as follows:
- Sitting in aural training class, straining to make out what pitches the teacher was playing on the piano, and thinking that I would really rather be running than trying to decipher intervals and chord progressions.
- I lived in an on-campus apartment, located directly across of the university gym. Everyday I’d make the treck to the weight room area after going on a run around the Los Angeles neighborhood, and see the same curly haired girl on a stationary bicycle. She’d be there when I got there, still there when I left, and I’d see her still pedaling through the big windows fronting my living quarters.
- My grandma made for me nishime (one of my favorites) to take up to school. That plus Zippy’s vegetarian chili were stored in my apartment’s freezer, and every week my one serving of Japanese food and one serving of the hot meal were my splurges. I made sure to portion out the food so that I would only have a cup of the Japanese vegetables and a cup of chili–any more or any less was unacceptable.
- I attended InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, and after one of the group meetings I proceeded to eat the pretzels, chips, cookies, and crackers on the snack table. In that order. For the next 10 minutes straight. No talking to others, just eating. And eating. I felt entirely guilty after for shoveling all the processed carbohydrates into my gut and spent the next day running and doing leg presses to eradicate the fat I KNEW was accumulating on my thighs.
There are many other memories that I have about college, but the rest are very similar to the above: all related to food and exercise. Now there were those few moments when I heard a great speaker at church or read a book in class that made my rational brain come alive, but the majority of my USC experience revolved around the eating disorder.
My saving grace, what I believed kept me physically alive during the time at that private school, was the Christian fellowship I belonged to. Previous to attending college I had just accepted Christ as my Savior, but I didn’t know much about the Bible or how to grow in my relationship with Him. Honestly, I didn’t even know the difference between the Old and New Testament. You can guess the fear and trepidation I had when I attended my first InterVarsity Christian Fellowship gathering. How was I was supposed to go to a meeting with all of these hand-raising, holy, scripture reciting students and fit in? Surprisingly, the moment I entered the lecture hall where the worship was being held, I felt at home. It’s a corny statement to make, but I could sense that these folks were genuinely interested in creating a relationship with me and more importantly, extremely motivated to grow in their walks with God.
What also helped me feel more “at home” with IV was that I ended up participating in a Mark study, where a bunch of us freshmen gathered together weekly to do an in-depth study of the book of Mark. It was there that I met a gang of first year students (one from Texas, another from Illinois, a few others from California), that became my close-knit group of friends. There was this unspoken, “Hey, we’re all experiencing this weird and odd thing called ‘college’ together…so lets help one another through all the ups and downs.” It was lovely to LIVE LIFE with these hilariously wonderful eighteen year olds. To be able to listen to music in one another’s rooms, walk around campus, and even do a road trip to San Francisco during spring break with a group of folk I felt I could be myself (or as much of myself as possible since my brain was starved) around gave me a sense of belonging. But more importantly, I think this group knew that I had issues eating. They weren’t quite too sure how to talk with me about it, but from their comments (“Hey, lets get lunch…I think we need to eat.”) and their protective nature (“Wait, you’re cold? Here, use my jacket.”), grew an unspoken bond between us.
Even at home during my senior year, my close friends saw my physical transformation before their eyes, but weren’t quite sure how to approach me about the situation. How could they tell me that I was literally wasting away before them? What if I broke down in tears? I was already in such a fragile state–what if their comments pushed me over the edge?
Supporting someone who clearly has an eating disorder is one of the most challenging situations to be in. If the individual is unwilling to get help or even acknowledge she has an issue, then family and friends will end up spending the majority of their time stressing on how to get that person the medical and psychiatric aid she needs. They end up walking on eggshells, trying to NOT bring attention to the fact that SOMETHING is wrong, when everyone is well aware that SOMETHING needs to be done. And then what do family and friends do to support? Do they take on the role of food police and monitor every bite that goes into the patient’s mouth? Or do they let the person walk through meals on her own and merely act as an observer of the road to recovery?
When I flew back home for summer break after my first year of college, my weight was the lowest it ever was. I think the last time I weighed that amount I was in elementary school. I remember one of the best friends I had at USC, a tremendously lovely guy from Texas who shared with me a common love for ska music, gave me the biggest, most enveloping bear hug before we parted ways to return home. It was almost as if he knew I wasn’t going to return to the Los Angeles campus, and was trying to squeeze some life into my failing body.
And so when I returned to Hawaii, layered in a sweatshirt and long pants in the middle of June, I was still thinking about school, but was also looking forward to sleeping in the comforts of my own home, seeing my family again, and escaping. Escaping to what I wasn’t sure, but all I knew was that I was living a life that was not God’s design for me. I physically looked as beaten and tormented on the outside as I felt on the inside. As a result of my wasted appearance, you can imagine the shock and surprise on my mother and father’s face at the airport when they greeted me as I got off the plane. It was only later that my mom said she stood at the gate waiting for me, not realizing that I was actually standing in front of her waving for a few good minutes. I had lost so much weight, my body so frail and my features so shrunken, she didn’t even recognize her own daughter.