You know that game ‘I went to the market and I bought…?’ We used to play it in the car a lot, especially in my uncle’s kombi when there was a troop of cousins to make up purchases like a hippopotamus in a pink tutu (I don’t know why I always remember this one.) We used to change the word market to open up the possibilities. I went to Mars and I bought…
I have a new version, again. It’s significantly less entertaining. A month or so ago, I went to the doctor and I got…a possible new diagnosis, hauled out of the background information of my life like a bread-crumbed sea bass fillet forgotten in the deep freeze. Today, I went to the doctor and I got…a new side effect. Well, not really new, it’s been happening for months, but I’d asked the doctor explicitly if it could be a side-effect of my medication. He assured me that was not the case. He forgot to say, “Just kidding.”
I don’t expect doctors to be omniscient. I don’t even expect God to be omniscient, never mind omnipotent (it’s hard to once you’ve read torture testimonies for your academic research), so how can I expect doctors in a under-resourced, constantly encroached, health system to be?
I just expect them not to lie to my face – please (she says, trying not to beg or pull out her hair.) That seems fairly reasonable, to me.
I’ve been putting on weight. Some of this is also fairly reasonable. I am living in a new country where they eat a lot of bread and drink a lot of beer. I’ve been in a state of extended physical duress. And for a bunch of months, I couldn’t stand or move a lot of the time (which tends to be a necessary condition for exercise.) But even as the crunch of this has begun to pass, as I have found my legs can work again, found that some days I can manage a walk and/or the gym, and begun to find ways to eat the way I prefer here, my body has continued to expand too fast for my skin, such that a spiderweb of jagged purple-red contour lines have broken out around my belly button, my breasts, my thighs, the back of my knees, and my upper arms. They may be elsewhere. I’m kind of trying not to look, because they distress me more deeply than I can make mature sense of.
My weight and I have been on bad terms since I was about 11, and I comfort ate my way through my parents’ ugly divorce. This peaked at about 15 when the healthy eating habits I adopted at 14 became obsessive. The psychology of it isn’t complicated. It’s almost dull in how common it is with girls – in a world of horror, hate & hormones, we assert control where we can. I vividly remember the flush of rage I experienced when my stepmother pointed it out aloud for the first time. We were on holiday. She offered me a snack of peanut butter crackers. But I’d been fixating on a photo of Natalie Portman I’d seen, wearing her flat stomach bearing white outfit worn on Tatooine in Star Wars all weekend and feeling imperious in my self-control. I casually (I thought) called back, “No thanks.” She came outside and said, “You’ve been eating less every day we’ve been here.” It was like a pinprick had burst my balloon. Looking back, I realise I wasn’t just angry. I felt humiliated – because she’d revealed my truth, that I wasn’t just getting it all right naturally, I had to starve myself to be pretty (so I also thought.) Implicitly, I also felt betrayed – she was a woman, she knew this secret truth of the world, how could she break this pact of silence, and say it aloud where my brother and father could hear? (Never mind my baby sister, what the fuck was I doing?!)
And so it went, for years. Behind & below friendships, awards, crushes, a love of writing, exams, dancing, family events, I was counting each unit of food.
Finally, with the help of a nutritional therapist, I reached an uneasy truce with my poor, hungry, hated body. Sometimes, we’re almost friends.
But you can’t be fucking with my weight, and not telling me, Dr.
Sabre-tooth tigers that I have lulled into hibernation wake roaring. And put simply, they’re plain mean and between migration, mental illness, and money matters, I ain’t got no breath left for that.