[Source: Sally Can Wait]
I once wrote a very passionate and articulate diary entry on how much I hated my mother. She found it. Or rather she sought it out in my absence and made a decision to read it. She then left it out in the open on her ironing board. We have never spoken about it. Neither did we ever discuss the times I would come home from school and find my belongings overturned onto my bed, or in later years, my bank statements in her room. I probably did not hate her, or perhaps I did and propose that denial because I’m aware of how transgressive it is. In any case, she is not co-writing this article and cannot defend herself – so I mean to say, hated or not, she is unexceptionally human. Now that I have wrestled with my confessional guilt and put it aside, my story continues that I was an unhappy child and I did not eat.
I was as fussy as the average tween. My family say I stopped eating red meat at some point before ten. Old habits die hard – or live strong in my case – because I have never had curry goat, ox tail or any of the other beasts Jamaican’s like to eat. It was a childish idiosyncrasy that I have stuck with. But time would pass and events ensued that hurt and overwhelmed me. I became more and more particular. No gravey. More controlled. Picked out my peas on a Sunday evening. Until eventually I barely ate anything. I remember being on a youth retreat and a friend asking “How many rice grains?” He was joking but it was a serious reflection of how little I would eat. I got skinnier and weaker. I would struggle to lift a plastic cup. I had an eating disorder.
There is a part of me that is very uncomfortable writing this. I feel arresting unease about these critical reflections on my environment. But those feelings are overcome by my compassion for little Black girls suffering in an area I don’t believe we have begun to address. Bulimia and anorexia are problems white girls face – that’s what I believed. They seemed rooted in a context and set of cultural practices so dissimilar to mine. But the damage I have done to my body is the contradicting evidence I needed. Whilst my eating habits were not directly related to my body image and I digested what little I ate, I was subject to dangerous eating abnormalities. I now have a tremor which cannot be treated, and this is the reason I wrote in About Me: my hands shake always. It has it’s inconveniences, it seems to boost a man’s confidence to no end when he thinks that I am nervous to be around him. I have had to give up my protest.
I was not diagnosed as a teenager neither did I receive any emotional or medical support for my illness. The behaviour that was wrecking my body stayed under the radar for my family, and regrettably even for me. At sixteen the young man who had been my first real experience of cathexis left to live in the U.S. and the following depression altered, (but did not improve) my relationship with food. I began to eat, a lot, and primarily sugars. I kept a stash of cakes, sweets and biscuits under my bed. I ate more than was necessary at dinner and my body began to fill out. I could no longer feel my hip bones pushing at my skin. The most startling thing – which makes me tearful even now – was realising that the gnawing feeling I had lived with had been a simple mix of hunger and sickness. I had felt ill all day every day for almost five years.
My previous posts have been concerned with body confidence and self determinism but in this last entry I want to draw attention to the environments that also have an important influence on our bodies. The link between my body and food was more complex than nutrition. It was conflated with my emotional responses to my environment. Whilst I have encouraged a positive outlook and regular exercise these approaches in isolation are symptom oriented and are not fit to address underlying causes for unhealthy relationships with our bodies. Particularly for my young sisters, we must demand peace. I do not necessarily mean stillness or silence but the presence of whatever conditions are necessary for our well-being. I know that I need a certain balance of pleasure, solitude and creative activity. As those things have come into place for me I’ve found that I’ve naturally given up most of my processed sugars (in contrast to my depressed state where I ate Rum & Raisin ice cream everyday), I am genuinely being satisfied in ways that are not reliant on an artificial high and body is thanking me. What remains is that sometimes our environment is beyond our control, and for those occasions, there is a wonderful thing I am learning called a boundary. We have to say yes and no respectively knowing that we can never afford the cost of an unhealthy body.
If there is anything I want to have achieved in this B.I.C series it’s an increased awareness of our responsibility to our little girls. I was not given the full extent of the attention and support I needed, but it is my hope that sharing my story may be the flag for other little brown sinking ships. In the recent weeks I have been blessed to receive emails from my peers sharing their own experiences. They are full of hope. Love you ladies.