The scArlet letter

Anorexia, a word I have come to hate. Why hate? Because the word alone brings with is discomfort, confusion, questions and often misinformation. The disorder itself is a death trap, literally. It destroys the victim, their families, creates distances between friends and dishonesty, doubt and brokenness spread like a disease. It is a word that usually doesn’t cross my lips and the only time I talk about it is when I blog.

Imagine my surprise when my 12 year old daughter asked me if someone we know “has anorexia?” In utter disbelief my first reaction was, “where did you hear that word”? I could feel my heart racing and a cold shiver run up my spine. She said very innocently that her best friend (from gymnastics) mentioned it. Now I don’t know where her friend would have heard the word, but she is first year high school and I think it is something her mom would say is general talk. I then asked my daughter what does she know of that word? She said that it is when someone doesn’t eat and gets very skinny. I told her that yes, it is correct but there is more to it than what most people make of it. I know that my daughter need to be aware of these disorders (and others) but I truly believe that 12 is too young to expose her mind to such knowledge. There will be a time and place for it, and I will surely correct her if her friends provide her with non-factual information.

The person she was referring too when she asked the question is a lovely young lady and ex-rhythmic gymnast who has now turned her passion for this beautiful sport into a small business as she makes gorgeous leotards. I met her for the first time last year March when my daughter trailed to compete overseas. She attended the event as one of the gymnasts needed alterations to a leotard she made. I didn’t know at the time who she was, but it was clear that she was not healthy and you can also see why most people would jump to the assumption of her suffering from ‘anorexia’. An extremely skinny rhythmic gymnast in a highly competitive sport = you must have an eating disorder.

I contacted her early December of last year to ask if she is available to make my daughter’s leotard. She was and I was thrilled with her design and colours. So we started the process. Several months had gone and I didn’t hear from her. I took it that she must be a very busy young lady so I will leave it just a little while longer before I contact her. Soon after, my one friend who is also waiting on a leotard from her contacted me and I found out that she is actually very sick. No, not due to an eating disorder, but because she has gastrointestinal problems yet to be diagnosed. She had been sick for over 2 years and her health deteriorates each day. She eats 5000+ calories a day, yet still looses weight. In her own words she describes how the doctors have told her she is dying and there is nothing they can do to help her, except send her for more tests. It is absolutely dreadful and my heart breaks for her. I have seen a recent photo of her on Instagram and I cried.

To place a label on someone before knowing the truth is to dehumanise them. I feel like it could be associated with having a scarlet letter stitched permanently unto your skin. We forget that the person carrying a mental and/or physical disorder is still a person. They are separate from their illness. The disorder should not define them. We would rather whisper behind our hands, these days behind a phone screen, before offering assistance or help.

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Day 101 11 April – pen pal

 

 

My daughter started writing to a pen pal this year. At first I thought we should look at pen pal groups online, but knowing what a slightly disillusioned world we live in I mentioned to her that perhaps she should write to someone we both know of but haven’t had any contact with in 9 years.

One of my best friends in South Africa has a daughter a year younger than her. My daughter was only 3 1/2 when we left South Africa and although her and my friend’s daughter use to spend a lot of time together she doesn’t remember her. My daughter was very excited about the idea of writing to someone else so far away. I told her what a lovely feeling it is receiving mail the ‘old fashioned’ way. Knowing that someone took the time to carefully put their words together on paper, add a photo or two, pay for postage. It is something an email or instant message can’t replace.

This off course brought back the memories of my own pen pal writing days. I remember that I found my pen pal on the pages in one of these vibrant teen magazines. During my early teens mobile phones (if you were lucky to have one) were the size of bricks and you could only make or receive phone calls. Yes we had computers but again that was a luxury not all families had and as a family we never used emails until I was much older. So writing letters and  make landline phone calls was still the best and most efficient way to communicate.

The pen pal I choose to write to was a young teenager who farmed with his family. Writing to only a name at the time, not knowing anything about the person who might (or might not) write back was pretty exciting. I was very fortunate that he respond and several weeks later I received a letter back. I can’t remember where he was from as I have since lost all the letters, but he was a year or so older than me, lived some distance away and even though he attended school, he spend most of his days on the farm. He was really lovely to write to and it always remained platonic. Thinking about it now, I not only wrote to a complete stranger but also provided them our address of residence which in hind sight was probably neglectful, but my parents didn’t see any danger to it as back then we were reasonably sheltered from wrong doings. No one thought of the ‘what could happen if’ scenarios. We felt safe.

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Today my daughter received her pen pal letter! I will treasure her facial expression when she opened the mail box and retrieved from it a letter marked with foreign stamps and beautifully neat hand writing. She opened her letter and read it out load. There were two photos accompanying the letter which she had since pinned to her board in her room. While she read the letter she would laugh at funny bits her newly found friend wrote, or exclaimed ‘I didn’t know that’ as she explains in her letter how far away they live from the beach, or how big her school is.

These are the type of memories I want to instill in my children.

Let the journey begin.

18, and still counting.

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7, the year standard you were when you entered our school and our lives.

1, the number of days it took for me to secretly fall madly in love with you.

3, the number of classes we had together: English, Biology and Registry.

2, the number of Judo Jnr World Championship titles you held.

2, the number of times we were dared by our friends to kiss each other in socially awkward moments.

0, the amount of times we actually followed through on these dares.

Too many to count, afternoons we trained together in our local gym, just as friends.

1, the number of chocolates we gambled on in support of each other’s weight loss/weight gain.

1, the number of times I won our chocolate gambled bets.

3, the number of dances we attended separately, with me wishing I was the one holding your hand.

1, the number of times we actually danced together.

18, the age you were when you decided to end your life.

4, the number of family members you left behind.

Too many to count, the number of people that attended your funeral.

12, the number of times you have haunted my dreams and filling me with a desperate hope.

18, the number of years it has been since that dreadful day.

You will stay forever 18, while we keep on counting the years without you.