Embodiment and All That Jazz

You will be pleased to know that I went to the doctor today. (Or maybe you don’t care. I suppose that’s up to you.)

I was nervous beforehand. I don’t like going to the doctor. I’ve always been healthy, so I haven’t had to go often, and when I do I feel exposed. My exhilarating trip to the ER at the tail-end of last year was an exception because I felt so ill for a short space of time that I was only slightly bemused to find a strange male nurse’s aide helping me take my bra off. Nothing much mattered at that minute except that someone was there in the moment to fix whatever was wrong.

Yet going to the doctor when I am fully sentient feels enormously vulnerable. I have to get undressed and talk about why I am the way I am with someone who only just walked into the little sterile room which has laminated posters in bold fonts. And also sometimes procedures hurt or are confusing. I’m a bit of a child, perhaps.

But I’m also, frankly, not terribly connected to my body. I don’t pay much attention to what’s going on with it, and tend to assume it doesn’t pay that much attention to what’s going on with me. I clothe it, I wash it, I’m trying to be better about feeding it and sleeping it. Here our relationship begins and ends. A couple weeks ago a classmate asked what sports I played and was a little incredulous that the answer was nothing. But it never has been anything. I can’t touch my toes, and I never really worry about trying.

This trip to the doctor, however, was a quiet triumph. She asked questions and I found myself having to confess the embarrassing eating habits I’ve had for years and struggling to recount exactly how my symptoms felt when I blacked out in December, but also re-iterating what I’ve known for a long time and am getting better about reminding myself of at appropriate intervals: that my emotional and mental state holds sway over the functions of my physical body, and perhaps vice-versa.

Our embodiment  as humans is a Regent pet topic, all wrapped up with our happy fixations on the Incarnation and creation, but as I’ve heard people wax eloquent the last few months, I’ve wondered. I have a body. Am I…supposed to be doing something with it? Is it supposed to be participating in my life somehow?

After I got back from the doctor’s I made my way to the Regent library and sat in a chair in the sun and began to do a little reading and poking for the last paper I have this term. In the process, I pulled up a little essay I’d never read before by Dylan Thomas, called “The Reminiscences of Childhood” and as I read and stepped with mind and heart into the ever-familiar world of well-handled words to see what it had for me today, an actual involuntary warmth washed over my real, physical shoulders, the thin, bony ones God gave me which are currently shrouded in a black sweater. And though I never really had before, I paused in my reading for a moment and thought about that feeling, those muscles unclenching and singing a little song of praise, and I thought to myself, “I have felt this actual, visceral, synapses-firing feeling in just this way thousands of times before, every time I read anything I love, every time I find anything true and potent. This feeling means home to me. It’s perhaps the primary way I know beauty. And it’s physical. My body has been engaging in my deepest loves all along. I just never acknowledged it.”

And then I came here to tell you.

Food, Health, and Other Things I’m Careless About

I intend this entry to be practical, so it might be more blunt than usual. I will be getting the sharp point of the spear here and you will be getting the blunt end.

I don’t eat enough. I’ve mentioned this before in an entry from last June, but there I mainly focused on my feelings, sweetly made other people responsible for them, and then turned the whole situation into a metaphor for parts of my life I’m more comfortable talking about. I don’t plan to do that today.

It’s true that I simply don’t have as big of an appetite as other people. It’s true that I’ve been thin since elementary school. It’s true that I find it uncomfortable and perhaps a little unfair that others (almost exclusively other women) feel so publicly free to comment on my size or my eating habits. It’s true that when someone tells me I need to eat more, instead of feeling cared-for I simply feel watched.

But it’s also true that they’re probably right. For years, I’ve told myself that they just don’t know, that I eat as much as I’m hungry for, that I’m fine, my body is fine, my health is fine. Over the last year or so, though, something has shifted. I’ve noticed things. My clothes don’t fit like I want them to anymore, and I can’t keep telling myself they’ve just all gone stretchy in the wash. I find myself serving very reasonable portions then struggling to finish them, spending twice as long over my plate as everyone else, always needing a to-go box at restaurants. And, perhaps most telling, I’ve started actually paying attention to how many meals I skip. I skip meals more often than I brush my hair.

I skip meals for reasons which have nothing to do with positive spiritual disciplines, or with the food itself or any effect it has on my body. I skip meals out of laziness, out of stinginess, or out of shyness. I train my body not to push itself, not to expend energy, but to conserve, go dormant, run on nearly-empty. I find nothing so much easier than something. There are metaphors to be drawn out here but, like I said, I’m not in the metaphor business today. Suffice to say, I have lived for going on twenty-seven years as if my activity or lack-thereof has no impact on my physical health, which is idiotic.

But at the end of December, while home in Greensboro, I blacked out and took a trip to the ER. My tendency is to joke about this, and in fact one of the first things I did when I got home from the hospital was write a poem making fun of my body, lodging a complaint with it for its inability to get me through the day. However, this is the fourth or fifth incident of this kind in the last few years, so perhaps at this point concern would be a better response than mockery.

And now I am writing this to you on a public blog which most of the people who care about me read on a sort-of regular basis. Like I said, I am almost inevitably defensive whenever anyone criticizes my eating habits or the way I take care of myself and posting these paragraphs to the internet will not magically change that gut response within me, but if I invite others in and ask for their help, I will know that I’m no longer allowed to complain if they give it.

So, sweet folks, here is what I plan to do. First, I’m going to make a doctor’s appointment and ask about my fainting spells: Am I anemic? Can we do lab-work again? Is there anything else we can check? Can I stop this from happening again? Second, I’m going to take every opportunity to eat with others rather than alone. And last, perhaps most shamefully difficult: I’m going to eat three meals a day. If this requires spending more money on take-out, or putting more time and effort into planning, shopping, and cooking, I will do it. I am going to prioritize this because it’s foolish to deprive my body. It’s been given to me as a good gift and I should treat it with more responsibility and gentleness.

I’m not looking to be bossed or managed, but I am asking to be reminded, encouraged, and occasionally nudged. Sometimes watching is care. So thanks to those of you who already have been. You officially have my permission now.