Learning from a sickness

Last Friday morning I awoke with good intentions to tackle my to-do list, just as I had been for the past several weeks/months/years. However, as I took that first leg-swing out of bed to start my morning rituals I was overwhelmed by physical vulnerabilities: headache, body ache, stomachache. I still felt utterly exhausted, though I had slept well through the night. I ate a sad little breakfast with my sweetie (sad because of my physical state, not the food or company), bid him farewell on his day away from the house, and succumbed to nearly three full days of reading, napping, trying to remember to drink lots of fluids, and to-do list stagnation.

This is unusual for me. Barring the two symphony concerts I was obligated to perform in (although I approached them with a definite lack of enthusiasm, I eventually found enjoyment and engagement by the second half of the program), the band meeting held at my house, a jaunt to the library, and a lovely Easter brunch cut short by stomach pains, I laid on the couch all day, read an entire book (Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver…perhaps deserving an entire entry all to itself), and ate citrus (all that I had the stomach for). I am usually such a go-getter: working hard, striving, goal-setting, intention-driven, etc. I have absorbed more Patchy business work into my life and have been enjoying the feeling of being more engaged, symphony has been running full steam ahead, and I’m really getting my new trail runners broken in. Artist’s Way has become a project in my life once more, after the first go-around two years ago. My life has been very, very full.

On Thursday evening, I was preparing to drive to Grants Pass with Henry for the first symphony concert of the weekend. A thought burst into my head, a voice, you could call it, that quite plainly said, “I don’t want to each so much food.” It was so odd…it was a voice that was certainly my voice, full of conviction, but also stated quite bluntly, like it was utter truth. I don’t want to eat so much food. Okay. What does that mean? I’m not in my early twenties anymore, so I don’t believe it was coming from a weight issue, although “eating too much” does eventually equal “more Sara”, perhaps more than I’d want. I don’t believe it is a control “thing” either (again, early twenties). I believe this is coming from something new, something more personal, likely rooted out with the help of Ms. Cameron (author of Artist’s Way). The facts:

  • I often use food (eating, shopping, preparation, planning, cooking) as a way to distract myself, fend off boredom, fight anxiety, or out of habit, and these eating patterns are not serving me anymore;
  • Food is by far and away my largest expense, and my income is at an all-time low;
  • Eating too much (more than needed to sustain yourself and feel satisfied) is not the most responsible, mindful attitude towards our strained food system and the Earth that sustains it;
  • I feel better when I don’t eat as much, period.

So, to tie my clarity of vision with my days spent on the couch, I had no appetite while feeling sick. This was really shocking to me and very interesting. I pondered it for many minutes while in sluggish repose. I didn’t even want to eat out of boredom; food repulsed me, even to the point of feeling faint, weak, and more headached. Furthermore, I was tying this curiosity about appetite into feelings of emptiness regarding my creative life and pursuing activities that I genuinely enjoy doing, that make me feel unique and inspired. For reasons that don’t belong here, I have been anxious and fearful to varying degrees for much of my life, starting in early childhood and gently erupting into my early twenties (there it comes up again…a difficult time for me), and I have used food to help those emotions for the past eight years or so. I believe the recent yearnings to more actively and mindfully engaged and creative in my life, rather than trying to mimic the unique paths of others or doing what I thought I ought to do or living a “cookie cutter life” (the phrase my friend Ang coined), have helped to elucidate the ways in which I use eating to “stay safe”. Instead of exploring a new opportunity, I may just stay at home because it’s lunchtime. Instead of writing parts for a new tune, I make soup. Instead of starting a painting, I go out and get coffee. These sound like rather innocent little distractions, but I strive for high ideals, and these tendencies repeated over several years add up to a feeling of stuck-ness, disappointment, and feelings of wanting to redirect my energies into something more artistic, emotive, and authentically Sara.

Image

My dad likes to say, “I am trying to embrace my hunger”, which is a great way to put it, this intention I am turning around in my head. “Embrace” is a graceful word, free of control and hinting on wisdom. I love this phrase, and try to put it into practice as often as possible. I want to embrace while at a party, listening to or making music with loved ones. I want to embrace while camping, enjoying the beautiful, quiet nature. I want to embrace while having an at-home day, filling it with little acts of self-care and art-making. I want to eat joyfully, mindfully, and on a hungry stomach. I believe that the voice in my head proclaiming “I don’t want to eat so much food” sparked some sort of physiological reaction in my body, shutting down my appetite for three days, to show me the peaceful emptiness of a time with less food involvement.

As always, difficult days can yield surprising, beneficial insights. My illness and quiet time lent to reflection helped to break down the creative block that eating has effectively set up in my life for nearly a decade. I am excited to pursue the joys in my life – reading; taking photos; painting; writing; music-making; the new, vulnerable, baby-step journey into part-writing; camping; hiking; yoga – with less mental emphasis on when my next meal will be.

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