Home business, home education and health challenges: what makes us tic?

Posts tagged ‘Lessons’

A special kind of different

As we discover more about the different learning styles I mentioned previously, I realise just how lucky I have been, and how I have been blind to my good fortune (or “blessedness”, if you prefer). Of the eight intelligences, I operate best in the mode most suited to learning in a classroom: words. I have all the tools to succeed academically. Lucky me! However, I form part of a group that comprises only about an eighth of the world’s population. In other words, 12.5%. The other 87.5% simply doesn’t learn well in “traditional” learning paradigms. The solution, these many years, has been to identify the lucky ones among as “gifted” and “dedicated” and “achievers”, and the rest as “problem cases”. As far as I can tell, the tactile-kinesthetic learners (those who need to move and touch and do and experience in order to learn) have the hardest time at all. A classroom is not the place for them. Not only is it incredibly challenging for them to learn in this way, but they are also demonised for trying to learn in their specific way.

Ironically, the tactile-kinesthetic learners are the polar opposite to me. If I can help it, I prefer NOT to touch or move, although I do learn by doing almost as well as by reading or hearing. And of course, guess which style both my children exhibit? Bingo.

So life is an interesting learning curve for all of us, as we focus on squeezing as much personal growth and development out of every moment of every day as we possibly can, experimenting along the way.

All of that is a giant and distracting preamble to the point of this post (*cough*ADD #JustSayin’) <– I can hashtag my own posts ‘cos I work in social media ;).

The point of this post is to share an article I read recently, which is very interesting indeed. It is “Take the green pill” : how to learn anything easily and effortlessly… by Joe Seeber. 

As he explains:

When it comes to learninghow to learn anything

… the most important factor is your mindset.

If your mind’s not right then you’re going to struggle with learning and grasping information.

This really resonates with me, and now more than ever. While I’ve never battled with academic learning, it’s been ages since I’ve applied myself to the process. In recent years I’d fallen prey to the notion that perhaps I was simply “too old to learn anything new”. Bah! Since I broke the shackles of that kind of thinking, my mind is full of new and fascinating ideas all the time, and I really feel like I could learn anything – even astrophysics – if I wanted to (and I kind of do).

But enough about me. Head over to Joe Seeber’s blog, read that article, and then tell me what you think in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you.

~ Vanessa

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In praise of arguments

Learning to argue well can be a recipe for personal growth

Learning to argue well can be a recipe for personal growth

My early Bible school training was built on the Socratic discussion model. We were taught to argue. And argue, and argue and argue. We had to be able to understand and prove our case, and defend it logically and comprehensively from every angle. It was stimulating, challenging and a recipe for personal, social, spiritual, mental and philosophical growth. I loved it, and I miss it.

This TED talk reminded me of that time. It encourages me to believe that people have the capacity to learn how to present different sides of a thought proposition, and that we can all grow as a result of learning how to argue coherently. Let me know what you think.

Parenting “on the spectrum” – part 2

Autism Spectrum Disorders | Image from http://www.autismdailynewscast.com

Autism Spectrum Disorders | Image from http://www.autismdailynewscast.com

In my last post I explained a little bit about what it’s like to live with a child on the autism spectrum, and how we identified that Goldilocks is such a child. Essentially, she has both Tourette’s and ADD, both autism-spectrum disorders. She also shows all the signs of high-functioning Aspergers as it presents in women and girls. So, without spending thousands of rands and dozens of hours on tests with the simple goal of acquiring a label for what we already know by plain observation, I’ve taken a different approach. I am harnessing the power of research, the internet, and maternal intuition to treat hat we’re presented with as best I can.

It is a work in progress. Every day present unique, unforeseen challenges, and I am sure I will never master the full scope of what it means to parent an “Aspie” with any degree of excellence. However, I can share what’s working for us right now, in the hope that it will help someone else.

Nine ways to help your Aspien Girl

  1. Identify her learning style

    We have spent a lot of time understanding just how Goldilocks processes the world. She is very musical, and even more kinesthetic. Ideally, I should be giving her hours of dance classes and free dance time, too. I am working on finding ways to share information with her that involve her whole body, and that use music. (Any suggestions are most welcome).

  2. Identify her triggers – food & environment

    Goldilocks can’t tolerate nuts, sugar, casein, lactose, wheat, gluten, grains, artificial colourants or flavourants, and any processed foods. Any of these, even in tiny doses, trigger asthma, tics, ADD and OCD. She becomes irrational, defiant and paranoid. She can’t control her body, her words or sounds, or her emotions. She is very likely to punch or kick others, break things, scream at people, flail around with her arms, forget things, shout, stamp her feet, be cheeky, be cruel in her words and actions, cry, make strange sounds and try to hide in small spaces. When she has not had any of these trigger foods, she is the easiest child in the world. She is pleasant, helpful, thoughtful, polite, kind and mature. She works fast and accurately in her school work and is artistic, creative and placid.

    Too much noise, heat or light, or noises that irritate; too much physical touch, or being forced into activities she can”t tolerate, trigger very similar reactions. While a certain amount of self-discipline is a valuable skill that she must acquire, forcing too much of it is a recipe for a melt down of epic proportions. It also results in what she calls a “tic bomb” at night, where she lies in bed making all the tics that currently form part of her repertoire, all at once, sometimes for hours on end.

  3. Make her feel safe

    This is key. At the tender age of eleven, with puberty looming large and what the scientific literature promises to be the very worst of her reactions to everything, Goldilocks finds it difficult, at times, to cope. My job is to let her know that it is okay to have “quiet times”, where she is undisturbed. It is okay for her to want and even need those times. It is okay for her to tic. It is okay for her to “cheat” in what she eats, and I will help her work through the consequences. It is safe to tell people about her challenges, and fine if she chooses not to do so. It is okay for her to go outside during Sunday School if the sheer weight of effort involved in socialising with so many people all at once is more than she can bear, and she devolves into one of her “tic bombs”.

  4. Make her feel understood

    As an extension of point 3, I need to make sure Goldilocks realises that I understand. In fact, I share (or have shared) some of these challenges, But even if that weren’t the case, I need to know as much as possible about what she faces. I need to do my homework. I need to invest time and energy into finding out what makes her “tic”, so to speak. Then I need to communicate that information to her, so that she knows she’s okay. And I have a duty to make sure that anyone else involved in her care in any way is aware of her special needs as well.

  5. Protect her from naysayers

    Sometimes, people just don’t get it. No matter how carefully I try to explain it all, or how much scientific backing I provide, they refuse to understand. They maintain that firm discipline will resolve the issue. Or they expect things she can’t hope to deliver. In those cases, I need to step in and run interference. I will always believe that education is the solution to our problems, and start these conversations with yet another attempt to educate the other person, to give them the tools they need to understand my unique little genius. And if they still stubbornly refuse to be nice, we gracefully exit the situation. We don’t actually have to put up with unpleasantness, and it’s my job, as her mom, to protect her from it wherever I can.

  6. Balance that protection with resilience-building determination

    Having said that, sometimes a little resilience goes a long way. I will protect my daughter, but I will also teach her to stand up for herself. I will protect my daughter, but not at the expense of a valuable life lesson: sometimes people are mean. Sometimes, people are hurting, and they lash out. We need to respond in kindness, gentleness and love. We need to be nice, even if others aren’t. This lesson breaks my heart a little bit, but it is vital, and I won’t shirk my duty.

  7. Don’t expect too much

    Goldilocks is gifted. Sometimes things come naturally to her. Often, she’ll look at a Math problem and it seems to solve itself in her head. She can read pages of old english fluently and with understanding. Science is as easy to her as eating chocolate is to me. And some days none of this is true. Some days, adding one to five is well beyond the scope of her abilities (just last week, in fact). On those days, I want to give up. My frustration is palpable, and she feels my disappointment like a living thing. A venomous snake, biting her, belittling her. Destroying her. I am ridiculous to expect to much on those days. I should revel in the good days and be patient and inventive on the bad days. But I am human (and busy) and I want every day to be a clockwork machine filled with highlights of genius and buoyed along by hours of happy, harmonious play. I expect too much. If I can give Goldilocks one gift, it is this: I will take each day as it comes. I will enjoy it thoroughly, regardless of how it goes academically. I will cease to measure “success” in academic terms, which have so little relevance to daily life. I will simply delight in watching her unfold into who she is meant to be.

  8. Don’t expect too little

    Even so, what can be worse than realising no one expects you to amount to anything? I will not do her that disservice. As parents of unique children, we need to be ready to expect the unexpected. They will always surprise us, and very often those surprises will be good – wonderful, even. I will expect her best, and thus elicit it, always encouraging her to be her own, wonderful self. I will remember that my idea of success, achievement, and excellence are not the same as her reality, and I will be sensitive to my tendency to measure things too strictly. We must embrace all that these angels offer us, and let them know that it is good.

  9. Love her unconditionally

    What greater gift can a child have than a mother’s love. No matter what. On bad days and on good. When she’s messed up. When I’ve messed up. When things are messed up despite our best efforts. This above all I commit to do. I will not hold grudges. I will not be cold and distant. I will not be unclar and vague. As far as I can, I will not be distracted. I will be available. But above all, I will love.

Today, I’d love to hear from you. Are you facing similar challenges? What’s working for you? And what isn’t? What have I left off this list and where am I going wrong? Please leave me a comment and let’s start a discussion on this vital topic.

With love,

Vanessa

Israelitis: surviving trials with grace

English: King Solomon in Old Age (1Kings 4:29-...

English: King Solomon in Old Age (1Kings 4:29-34) Русский: Царь Соломон в преклонных летах (3Цар. 4:29-34) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Growing up, I used to marvel at the fickle nature of the Israelites in the Old Testament. They witnessed the power of God. In a very real way, the Almighty dwelt among them,  guided and directed them, loved them and led them. He showed them the way. They went astray. For hundreds of years He gave them warnings and grace, and finally, he had the grace to lead them into captivity: the ultimate payment for their waywardness.

 

King Solomon puzzled me most of all. After all, he met the Holy One personally – not once but THREE times! He spoke to God. More than that: God spoke to him! God asked Solomon what he wanted – and then gave him that! And so much more. It’s astonishing. But it’s not nearly as breathtakingly astonishing as the fact that Solomon went astray. He was one of the worst, worshipping idols, and leading all of Israel into the same trap.

 

Solomon’s folly was so great, it ripped the kingdom in two. The devastating effects of his mistake have been felt through the centuries, and still have an effect today.

 

What I could never wrap my head around was the fact that these people, who had not only a national legacy of walking with God, but who had also had personal encounters – often one-on-one – with the Living God, could ever turn their backs on Him. I couldn’t even begin to conceive of it. How could it happen.

 

Well, now I know.

 

All it takes is one bad harvest.

 

Think about it. You work hard all year. You observe the Sabbaths and the New Moons. You’re faithful in tithes and offerings, and you never miss either a feast or a fast. You’re kind to your neighbours (even when they don’t deserve it), and you raise your children right. You follow the law. You’re good. And you’re blessed. You have enough to eat and drink, a lovely home, healthy kids. What more could you hope for?

 

But then, for some reason, the crops fail one year.  You can’t figure it out. Didn’t the prophet Malachi promise that if you were faithful in your tithes, you’d be blessed? Was he wrong? Was he lying? What’s the story? And even though you know it probably won’t do any good, you take a peak over the mountains to see how the Syrians are doing. To your surprise, they’re doing well. It doesn’t take long for that surprise to boil into anger. You’re disappointed; you’re frustrated; you’re confused.

 

You’re betrayed.

 

Why has this happened? Who did what wrong? Who has led me astray? Have I been worshipping the wrong god all this time?

 

Those deceitful words are the beginning of a steep and slippery slope into despair and apostacy, my friends. The first seeds of doubt quickly take root in the fertile ground of your indignant rage. You wonder where the fault lies. You don’t want to doubt God, of course, but you know you’ve done nothing wrong. The only alternative left to you is the belief that perhaps those self-righteous, power-hungry priests have led you astray for their own selfish ends. Perhaps the Philistines have been right all this time. Or the Babylonians. Or those accursed Syrians. Perhaps the fault was never yours, nor God’s. Because He wasn’t there. And all your well-meant devotion has achieved is to make it impossible to feed your family. For a whole year. A year of effort wasted. A year of poverty and desperation ahead.

 

You determine to do better. And so you worship the gods of the harvest, the gods of the seasons, the gods of family and health – anyone, anywhere, who promises any hope of a better year next year. You’re desperate, alone and betrayed. What choice do you really have?

 

And all it took was one harvest.

 

I know what that’s like. Unlike the faithful Israelite in this story, all it takes for me is a week or two. A late payment from a client; a few panic-stricken days wondering what in the world I’ll conjure for supper – these are all it takes for my weak, faltering faith to be shaken to its core. I’d love to be strong and faithful like Job, but almost invariably I turn out to resemble more closely Job’s wife, with her shameful, infamous, “Curse God and die!”

 

Despicable.

 

Human.

 

So, in light of this human condition, I was very encouraged today to receive a study, via email, of the tests we face as God’s ambassadors here on earth, and why it matters so much that we pass them.

 

Thoughts on the tests we face in life:

 

  1. Tests will always happen

    Regardless of your faith, you will face trials. A life spent questioning this fact is a wasted life. Far more noble to pursue a life of meaning: uncover how you can grow and help others as a result of your personal tests.

  2. Tests keep happening until you learn the lesson

    So get on and learn it. Unlke school, where failure to grasp a test the first time around was complete failure with no hope of redemption, the tests we face in life give us second chances. And third. And more, until we’ve grasped what we should be learning from these trials.

  3. At the end of a test – there’s another test!

    You may have a break between tests, but it’s little more than a temporary reprieve. Don’t get to comfortable, and don’t expect the calm periods to be your due. They’re not, and that expectation will set you up for disappointment and bitterness, time and time again.

  4. Test can deliver delightful results

    Tests give us the opportunity to clarify what we’ve mastered, get rid of “junk” we don’t need in our lives, change our perspective, change us for the better, and equip us to help others. Tests also grants us the unparalleled opportunity to become humble, as we realise we all truly are equal.

  5. There are five kinds of tests we face:

    1. The Wilderness Test – this is a test of time, in which nothing seems to change for long periods. It’s easy to get discouraged, like Abraham did, and eventually take things into our own hands. The results are pretty much always disastrous.
    2. The Failure Test – this is a test in which everything we do seems to fail. The trap here is frustration and hopelessness. We need to keep the faith that God keeps His promises, and hang in there.
    3. The Betrayal Test – this is the test where someone you trust betrays you. It can be the result of misunderstanding, or the malicioousness of others. During this test, bitterness and hardness of heart can destroy us. Guard your heart with all dilligence and don’t let the bitterness take root.
    4. The Authority Test – we do not understand the power of being under authority. The key to passing this test is submission, and we need to behave with grace and dignity as we accept the authority God has placed in our lives. Remember: there is always something to be learned.
    5. The Obedience Test – here we battle between God’s will and our own. It’s not wrong to put your request to God – even Jesus did so in the Garden of Gethsemane, when He asked God to take His “cup of suffering” from Him. But when Jesus passed this test, the entire world was given the opportunity to be saved. We too have the opportunity to be part of something phenomenal if we can just pass the test of being obedient to God.

 

Sometimes, it seems like all five tests strike at once, or a few of them sneak up in combination. Even so, passing the tests will result in a new level of growth, closeness to God, and depth of peace you’ve never experienced before.

 

Have you faced any of these tests? Or are there some I may have missed? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject.

 

Love,

 

Vanessa

 

Date night on a shoestring

Even Google wished me happy birthday!

Even Google wished me happy birthday!

Today is my birthday! Huzzah! Birthdays are supposed to be fun. It’s a day all to yourself, on which you get gifts and people spoil you and your husband take you out to dinner. When times are tight, however, it can be tempting to find the celebrations less than fun. It’s not hard to feel, sometimes, as though stuff = happiness, and if we can’t afford the stuff, we can’t buy happiness.

That is half true: you can’t buy happiness. You have to find it, and you need to invest time in doing so. All the marriage experts advise us to “date our mates“, but sometimes it’s difficult to imagine how to go on a date when you have kids, and very little else ;).   So, here are my

Top 10 Tips for a FABULOUS Date Night

– no matter how tight your budget is.

  1. Sleep overs rock

    First things first: tonight is about you and him. Whether you’re staying in or going out, having a reliable, trustworthy person watching your angels will make the night a lot more fun for you. If you choose your babysitter well, the kids will be so excited to go, they’ll think it’s all about them! Everyone wins. We often call on my loving sister, who adores the girls and also gives them a night of fun and laughter while we’re out.

  2. Eat in

    You’re making supper anyway, right? Add a couple of candles, some flowers and a little music, and it’s a date. Turn off the TV (and put away the computers), and spend some time reconnecting with your spouse.

  3. Take out

    We always eat less when we get take-aways than we do when we sit down in a restaurant. In fact, my very favourite way to spend Date Night is to split a Chetty’s Chicken Curry with my man – at home.

  4. Coffee shop it

    If you can run to it, it really is fun to get a little dressed up and go somewhere nice. Coffee shops often have a lovely ambience, and for some reason bought coffee always tastes nicer, no matter how good my at-home brand may be. There’s no need to order a bang up meal with cake and lots to drink. A cup or two of coffee (find a pace that does bottomless!) provides a sense of luxurious leisure, and a stress-free zone to catch up with your man.

  5. Desserts: stressed spelled backwards for a good reason!

    Perhaps you could just go out for a piece of cake (if you’re not gluten intolerant 😉 ) or some fruit salad. Frozen yoghurt or smoothies or good, old-fashioned ice cream. “Date” doesn’t have to mean “dinner”. And let’s be honest, aren’t desserts the whole point, after all?

  6. Movies at home (or YouTube)

    Movies are loads of fun. Papa Bear and I love a rollicking action flick or a side-splitting comedy. We often play something light in the background while we work at night. Date night is an opportunity to engage in the movie (and each other) a little more, without the distractions of work and kids and technology. If you have the bandwidth, look up comedians on YouTube and explore new territory. Enjoy laughing together, holding hands and just being together.

  7. Picnics and outings

    A picnic costs nothing. Well, nothing more than lunch, which you were going to have anyway. There’s little in the world to compare to the happy ease of sitting outside, enjoying the gorgeous weather and just being.

  8. Board games

    Scrabble. Cranium. 30 Seconds. The art of combat is ignited, battles are fought and won (by me!) and in the process we laugh and chat and reconnect.

  9. Volunteer

    Is there something you both feel passionate about? Why not take a couple of hours to make a difference in your community, and at the same time get closer to one another? It’ll be fun!

  10. Date your mateEvery night could be date night

    We’ve found that any night that sees the kids in bed and us together – maybe on the couch sharing a cup of cocoa, or sitting at the desk together while we both work, with comedy on in the background, can be “Date Night” if you choose to see it that way. Quality time is a love language because it really is a way to express love – even if not a word is spoken.

The real key to having successful dates on a regular basis is to make the most of every opportunity that comes your way. View the challenges as part of the adventure. View the easy patches as a welcome (and deserved) reprieve. Above all, laugh together, and enjoy one another.

And don’t forget to DATE YOUR MATE as often as you can.

Lots of love,

Vanessa

Confessions of an anorexic – part 2

“Miss A—” pictured in 1866 and in 1870 after treatment. She was one of the earliest anorexia nervosa case studies. From the published medical papers of Sir William Gull

Yesterday I told you my story: why I became anorexic, how it played out, and how I started the road to healing.

Today, I want to share what I’ve learned from this experience. I hope it will be helpful to you if you or someone you love is facing a similar situation.

9 things you should know about Anorexia Nervosa

  1. It’s not about food. Not really.

    It’s about control. My life was out of control. My parents could not be made to see reason. My siblings would not cooperate. My grades were never as high as I wanted them to be. The popular girls measured their status by how thin they were – and I was a nerd. Even though I knew it wasn’t true, I hoped that if I could be the best at this, I might have found a way to be accepted. I knew I could be the thinnest (ie: best). I knew I could control food. It was one thing that was utterly mine.

  2. It’s not about what you weigh.

    That’s merely a tangible yardstick of your success. I cared about what the scale said not because I had a goal weight in mind, but because the numbers were real and clearly indicated that I was “winning”.

  3. Forcing me to eat would not have helped.

    People tried. They failed. All that did was to strengthen my resolve. I would not be controlled. Now, I understand that in cases more serious than mine this is the only way to save a life. However, unless you get to the heart of the problem, this solution is only temporary at best.

  4. Fighting amongst yourselves does not help.

    Blaming one another for my sickness is counter productive. I am trying to distract you from yourselves and unite you in a fight against something that matters. Please stop fighting.

  5. Tiptoeing around me would not have helped.

    People tried that, too. Even though I stubbornly refused conversation, I longed to be heard. A sincere airing of issues and a resolution to start improving would have been of immeasurable value in the early days.

  6. Focusing on healthy nutrition is only a beginning of a cure.

    An unexpected side effect of my experience with anorexia was that I learned that food could make me very sick, and abstinence from food could make me much better. I knew I’d have to start eating again eventually, but I now felt empowered to make choices that would support my body‘s unique requirements, rather than contributing to my general sense of malaise. However, when well-meaning friends and family tried to give me dietary advice, I was deaf. What they advised did not match up with my experience, and my anorexia was never about diet, anyway.

  7. I destroyed my body in more ways than I ever anticipated.

    Even though I would never talk about anorexia at that time, I did read about it. I told myself I was simply proving that I was NOT anorexic, but I think I was actually looking for tips. Perhaps I wasn’t reading the right material, but I can’t recall seeing much to prepare me for the devastation I wrought in my body. My hormones have never been balanced since then. I developed endometriosis and battled for a long time to fall pregnant. I lost  a baby. My hair is strange. I have heart palpitations. And I have a slew of food allergies and intolerances that make virtually every meal a minefield. I was not expecting any of that. I thought I could turn it off like a switch.

  8. I have become the Food Police

    My years of research into nutrition have resulted in a Mama who insists that her kids eat three healthy, balanced, Paleo meals each and every day, and get plenty of snacks and fresh water. Sugar is not tolerated. Starch is only allowed on VERY rare occasions – and even then, never gluten. My girls know more about the effect of GMOs and processed foods than most people my age. I never force them to finish the food on their plates, however, and go all Mama Bear on anyone who does. I also invest a significant amount of time into keeping food and figure separate. My girls think of themselves and others as perfectly beautiful creations of God – regardless of their size. Ugly is on the inside: poor manners and cruelty, not looks.

  9. I will never be WELL – although I AM better.

    What I discovered is that I have will power. For months after my appendectomy, I didn’t want to eat. I had conditioned myself to resist the urge. But I knew I needed to, and I had discovered that I could control my instincts and my body with my strong will. I used that, and it worked. I rechannelled my energy into learning about excellent nutrition, balanced exercise, and a sense of perspective. I stopped trying to be the top of the class, and focused on being the best version of me that I could be. The irony was that I did better than I might otherwise have done as a result of my new, improved attitude. I became a nicer person, too – more tolerant. I stopped trying to make people be what I expected them to be. My parents began to heal their marriage, I focused on the friends who brought out the best in me, and I learnt to be less selfish and more attentive.

    While it’s not a path I would ever recommend or choose again, I am much better for having walked it than I would otherwise be.

    I am still walking this path. When my life feels like it is spinning out of control, my thoughts often head straight for fasting. It seems to be a short-circuit in my brain, thinking that not eating solves everything. It doesn’t. I know that. But I sometimes need to remind myself.

If you’ve faced an eating disorder, or you love someone who has, you’ll know what I’m talking about. The neural pathways that led us to such extremes are hard to rewire. Let me know your experiences in the comments below. I’d love to connect with you on this important topic.

Confessions of a recovering anorexic – part 1

dietThe day it started

I remember the day it all began so clearly. I was fourteen. Just. We were standing in line, waiting to go into our Geography lesson. I’d always had a tendency towards skinniness, and I’d never seen it as an attractive feature – on myself, or anyone else. In fact, I had a passionate mistrust of the word “diet”, or anything to do with radical, short-term modifications to what I saw as a long-term issue.

And that issue was self control.

Around me, the girls were talking about the weight loss fads to which they subscribed, weighing up their relative successes (pardon the pun), and generally bemoaning their obesity. Although I stayed out of the conversation, I was irritated (a fairly typical state of mind for me in my early teens, I admit). “Why must they complain. They all look fine! And if it’s such an issue, just do something about it. If you won’t fix it, don’t complain about it!”

I decided I’d show them how it was done.

More to it than meets the eye

There were other things going on in my life at that time, as well. My parents were fighting all the time. They often spoke of divorce. We’d looked at countless houses with my mom as she tried to find “somewhere better” for us to stay. She’d even taken a job – a new development for our family. We knew the quickest route to a divorce and the legal ramifications of a trial separation. All weekend long they’d rage and fight. Threats were thrown down like gauntlets, and plans were made for “moving on”. By Sunday night, there’d be peace. And while the week would generally start off well, by Friday we’d be back at battle stations, armed and ready for combat.

Nothing I did could ease the tension. I tried to control my siblings’ behaviour to reduce tension. This would be amusing even with average individuals, but with my headstrong, stubborn and independent brother and sister, it was a recipe for disaster. I tried to ace all my classes at school, but there were some I could never master, and there always seemed to be someone better than me. Nothing I did could propel me to the top of all my classes, and I put in longer and longer hours to achieve mastery.

To make matters even worse, I was often sick. Food made me nauseous and caused my skin to break out. I had an ongoing cold and frequent bouts of bronchitis. My stomach was a hard knot of cramps no matter the time of the month, and I was plagued by headaches. Now I know that these were symptoms of my gluten intolerance, but at the time I simply felt like an undiagnosable failure.

These contributed to growing sense of being out of control over every aspect of my life.

It felt like flying

First, I gave my sandwiches away. There were enough growing, geeky boys around to help, and I explained that I “wasn’t hungry today”. That worked very well for some time, but eventually one of my teachers got suspicious when she caught me sleeping on her desk, and told my friends not to accept lunch from me.

Next, I made up a story. I told my mom I thought I might be gluten-intolerant like her, and asked if I could take a salad to school instead of sandwiches. She obliged. I loved that because even if I did “cheat” and have some of the salad, it was just lettuce and tomatoes, and I knew that wouldn’t have any effect. (I had no idea, then, that my “lie” was the truth).

Besides feeling tired (which took some time to start), I felt fantastic! For the first time that I could remember, I didn’t hurt. My skin was sallow, but my spots were gone. My stomach was flat, and my gut no longer ached. My brain was clear, and I could think. For the most part I had so much energy that I hardly felt the need of sleep. It did occasionally catch up with me, but over all it was a significant improvement in my quality of life.

After a few months, people noticed. I would fob them off with vague excuses, such as having an iron deficiency when I as obviously tired. I told them they were imagining things when they said my weight had dropped. I claimed I was dancing in my spare time, and that accounted for it. I said I ate like a horse at home (and at home I said someone had given me a meal at school).

I avoided meal times and family gatherings involving food. I hid food, threw food away, and claimed to have stomach cramps or nausea when faced with a full plate of food. My history of gluten intolerance symptoms was my firm ally in this deception.

I would never tolerate the mention of the word “anorexic” – after all, I didn’t care about being thin. But that’s what I was – and it had so very little to do with my dress size or a number on the scale

Coming back down to earth

Eventually,my period stopped, which was a welcome relief. However, I knew what I was doing. I had made my point and began to see that the time would soon come when I’d have to “go back to normal”. I was dreading it.

Then one night, around 1AM, I woke my parents up because I had severe abdominal pain. I thought my dad was spinning me around and around, but when I woke up in hospital I discovered that in fact I had passed out and been rushed to ER. I had appendicitis and needed emergency surgery. My moment of truth came when I needed to be anaesthetised. I hadn’t told anyone my real weight in so long that I couldn’t bring myself to do so now. I lied, giving the nurse a number nearly 10kg higher than my real weight. As I drifted into unconsciousness, I heard the nurses comment on how my body looked like that of a 12-year-old. They were sure someone had written the wrong information on my forms …

It took a long time for me to come round. My surgery was at 6AM, and at 3 in the afternoon I was still out cold. Even the doctor was concerned, and they took measures to wake me up. When I came to, and after understanding what had happened, I realised just how foolish and selfish I’d been.

I resolved to live a little more boldly, and leave a few things to chance. I also made a commitment to my own health: I would find out why food made me sick, and I would stop taking on other people’s problems.

This journey was a trial by fire, and it taught me a lot. I’ll discuss the lessons I’ve learnt tomorrow. But today, I’d love to hear from you. Have you ever faced an eating disorder? Are you facing one now? Or have you loved someone who battles with food/body issues? I’d value your comments. Please share your thoughts in the comments box below (just be nice :)).

– Vanessa

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