The way most eating disorders (or anxiety or depressive or mood disorders in general) work is by creating a set of consistently increasing rules you have to follow in order to avoid all of the bad feelings—whatever those may be.
Rules, self-inflicted or externally created, are heavily dictated by one’s context. I’m not going to walk around a party with my hand raised waiting for someone to call on me before I speak. Likewise, I’m not going to walk in with a Solo cup to class and start loudly singing (good luck to those who try that during Frolics). The same is true by country. In the US, there are certain expectations I have internalized related to appearance. We could get into the mechanisms through which these are internalized, but why don’t you just take my word for it?
Perfect, in the ways I think about it means lithe and fragile, birdlike and graceful, never sweating or rumpled, clean and polished but not overdone, polite and quiet, on schedule and organized, intelligent but quietly so, never hungry, always moving. Yeah, that’s just not how travelling works.
Your plans are always up in the air, no matter how many times you try to tamp them down. Your expectations are consistently upended, whether that’s expectations for food or activity or relationships or anything.
You’re always sweating and slightly rumpled. Despite the fact that everyone in Ghana almost obsessively irons everything, I have yet to even fold a single piece of clothing here. And you’re always hungry and sometimes (like right now) you get tired of the vegetable or chicken or fish stew that always tastes about the same and you get tired of the jollof rice and so what you feel like eating gets smaller and you end up having desserts for whole meals.
You never have much to do and you end up sitting around a lot, which when sitting makes you anxious can be hard, but then you remember how good it feels to be a “voracious” reader again and you don’t mind.
You watch your body, cringing when you think it might be getting softer, reveling when you see new muscle tone, laughing when you realize you can’t really be seeing both alternatively and that the way you’re seeing yourself is probably indicative of some other mood that you actually have time to go searching around for.
You get tired of random men asking to take photos with you and eventually you start snapping “No” and reminding them that you don’t need to give them a reason that it’s your damn body and you’ll do as you please now you’re trying to enjoy the beach if they don’t mind. Ok, well I still haven’t broken that barrier, besides saying No, I still get wheedled and undressed by their eyes and am still to hesitant to yell at men when they touch me as though I’ve been sitting around just waiting for their annoying hands to annoyingly touch my shoulder or ankle or head while I’m enjoying a book. Maybe I’ll get there, maybe I won’t.
Every day I wake up, and I’ve stopped expecting things. I’ve stopped needing things to happen in the way I plan them for them to work out, mainly because I’ve stopped making plans besides the bare bones ones like “dinner is at 6.” It takes a lot more and a lot bigger things before I reach my emotional limit and just want to crawl into bed. I feel more patient, more easy-going, which is perfect in its own way.
Let’s just hope the lesson sticks when I’m back in the frenzied life at Davidson.