Just a few months away from turning 30, I started to break.
What began as a string of seemingly unrelated accidents and injuries quickly snowballed into a comically large collection of problems I now have to believe are connected. It’s as if my body and brain have both had enough. They could see the big 3-0 approaching and decided, “Nope. Not gonna make it. Have fun, travel safe, send postcards.”
I think it started with a sizable burn on my right leg. I walked straight into an oven door I’d left flung open. Did I mention the oven had just been quite busy, dutifully operating on its broiler setting? I was concerned the rectangular blemish would detract from the general bridesmaid aesthetic at my best friend’s wedding. I needn’t have worried about the burn, though. It was mostly obscured by my flowing pale pink gown and overshadowed by the orthopedic Velcro boot encasing my left foot.
The foot itself was suffering a stress fracture. Or that’s at least what the handsome emergency room doctor assured me it was as I sat pathetically on his examination table just hours before the rehearsal dinner. I couldn’t understand how I’d managed to sustain a fracture – stress or otherwise – seeing as how I’m hardly an athlete. I’d been attending some extra dance classes, sure, but a few additional hours of cardio hardly seemed sinister enough to break bone.
Then it slowly started to make sense.
That’s not to say I got the message right there. No, no – for someone so bullheaded, repetition is key to comprehension. Once the left foot healed, I came down with a marginally impressive cold, and an inexplicable skin irritation around my neck, and then dramatically slashed my thumb on a broken full-length mirror and bled all the way to work (I know, I know – but the seven-years-bad-luck cliché is so obvious, isn’t it?). I developed a debilitating stiffness in my hip flexors for a few days and painful tendonitis in my left elbow from downward dogging. I had six chipped teeth repaired and then promptly chipped two more. I pulled a baking sheet directly out of the oven and into my abdomen, singeing yet another substantial chunk of flesh.
In what I thought was the epic grand finale, I thoughtlessly ignited the wrong burner on the stove, exploding a giant Pyrex dish into a trillion shards of razor-sharp glass, all around my kitchen. I’m sure the detonation itself was a spectacular sight, but my back was turned at the time. My positioning however, spared my eyeballs, which is a decent consolation for missing the big event.
I miraculously escaped that incident without a scratch (so far…I’m convinced shards remain hidden behind appliances and fixtures), but it was becoming undeniably clear that something was seriously short-circuiting for me – mentally and physically.
Which brings me to the present, where I’m trying to ignore the tingling emanating from yet another potential stress fracture in my other foot. The sensation isn’t pleasant, but it’s actually less concerning than the curious discomfort creeping up in the original foot. That’s right – I’m likely developing two stress fractures. In two different feet.
Allow me to remind you, I am not yet geriatric. Despite a penchant for knitting and a deep appreciation for Sleepytime tea, I am in fact not 85 years old. For another few weeks, I’m still a 20-something. But the past several months have made it clear that years of self-inflicted physical and psychological warfare may be manifesting in a multitude of ways because they’ve finally caught up to me, no matter how hard I’ve tried to outrun them (the running thing is figurative and literal and also a played-out cliché, but I couldn’t help myself).
I haven’t been completely candid. I was diagnosed with osteopenia about twelve years ago. It’s not quite as scary as osteoporosis, which causes a significant thinning of bone, but it could be considered a pit stop on the way there. It’s an odd diagnosis to receive as a reasonably healthy 18-year-old. But not that odd for an 18-year-old who hasn’t menstruated in two years because she’s been deeply engaged in a flirtation with semi-starvation masquerading as a diet.
I’d never felt good about my weight. I was tall in elementary school, which elementary school kids translate to “big” for simplicity’s sake. I grew up in the mid-to-late 90’s era of baggy flannel and oversized JNCO jeans, making it easier to hide behind layers of fabric once puberty struck. I wasn’t confident, but I wasn’t depressed about my size. I experimented with trendy diets and repeatedly tried to believe that I liked exercise. But nothing stuck – I simply didn’t care enough to torture myself.
Until I did. Something clicked (or snapped, depending on how you look at it), and I suddenly couldn’t live in my body anymore. I refused. I wanted taut abs like the ones Britney Spears flaunted (it was the “Baby One More Time” era, but I guess that statement could still be relevant today – maybe? Millennials? Help me out?). I resolved to lose weight. I wish the resolution had poetically taken place on New Year’s Eve. But it was a slightly delayed pledge that began with a staunch refusal of all chocolate-covered treats one Valentine’s Day.
And so I lost weight. And the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. So positive, I saw no reason to stop. Maintenance wasn’t a term I’d learned in my quest to slim down. I assumed the way to keep weight off was to amp up the obsession.
I’ll spare you the details – not only because they could be misconstrued as a step-by-step tutorial on the most effective way to adapt an eating disorder, but because they’re not interesting. I never completely stopped eating. I was never hospitalized. My blood tests were almost always normal, and frustratingly, so was the number on the scale. I never became frighteningly emaciated or alarmingly underweight. The only real sign of dysfunction was my hibernating period and the sorry state of my bones. But what does that really mean when you’re a teenager? Saved money on tampons? Decreased probability of using cramps as an honest excuse to sit out gym class?
I always thought I’d get a warning sign. Maybe I’d faint theatrically on a treadmill, or something disconcerting would show up during my routine physical. But no, I’ve remained consistently “normal” for over a decade, despite a continuous up and down relationship with food and exercise. Until the physical problems (accidental and otherwise) began.