As I am sure most of you have realized, eating disorders are not diseases that just devastate the bodies and minds of sufferers, they also completely ruin families. Parents sometimes must take leave off work in order to focus all their attention on caring for their anorexic or bulimic child. Siblings of ED sufferers end up feeling abandoned and forgotten as their mom and dad spend most of their waking hours on their ill child – shuttling them to various doctor’s appointments, supervising their arduous and emotionally-draining mealtimes , and visiting them while they are in the hospital. When a family member has an eating disorder, everyone has no other choice but to make sacrifices and put their lives on hold.
Since my official eating disorder diagnosis over 5 years ago, my family has had to miss out on enjoyable social events, dining at fine restaurants, and even memorable family vacations. My disease has literally been holding my mother, father, and little sister hostage and so when my parents suggested that we head on over to Arizona for spring break, I agreed (although it took me awhile to built up the courage to do so). I was well aware of how challenging and anxiety-provoking this five day trip to the American southwest would be, but it was time for me to stop letting my disease hold my family back from doing the things they wanted to do. Just like every other human being, they deserved to smile, to laugh, and well . . . to just live!
And so, on March 27th we boarded the plane to Pheonix, Arizona and arrived late that evening. After spending the night in a hotel, we hit the road and headed south to Green Valley, Arizona – where my grandparents live during the winter. As I looked out of the car window, I could feel my anxiety morph into astonishment and awe. The landscape looked almost otherworldly to me. There were no lush oceans of green grass, tall trees bursting with their fresh springtime blooms, or dark blue rivers filled with freshwater fish. Instead, the flat ground was completely naked, revealing its dry gold-colored soil. Speckled across the arid landscape were prickly, greenish-yellow cacti and other forms of bizarre-looking vegetation. Towering over the level desert plane where huge, majestic mountains. For the entire 2 hour car ride, I stared out of the window, memorized by these gigantic guardians of the Arizona desert.
Once we arrived at my grandparent’s hacienda-style home in Green Valley – a town comprised almost entirely of elderly “snowbirds”- my grandparents gave my family a tour of the community. After that my sister, grandma, and mom all went swimming and my grandpa and uncle headed on over to the bowling alley. As for me, I went with my dad to visit an old family friend who apparently lived just a few blocks away from my grandparents’ hacienda. Other than that, the day was pretty uneventful.
The next day (Tuesday, March 29th) was probably the best day out of the whole entire trip. My dad, grandma, mom, sister,and I spent the morning exploring the Arizona-Sonora Desert Mueseum – a 98 acre outdoor experience that seamlessly fuses a zoo, aquarium, botanical garden, and natural history museum into one must-see Tuscon attraction. That afternoon, my dad spent some quality time with my Grandpa and uncle golfing and my mom, sister, grandma, and I decided to head on over to Madera Canyon. As we drove through the canyon, I was absolutely amazed by how quickly the landscape transformed itself. As we got higher in elevation, the cacti and parched soil all but disappeared and was replaced by lush, green trees and calming creeks. Looking back at the entire trip, the drive through Madera Canyon was probably the only time when I was truly relaxed and at peace.
Once Wednesday came around, I wasn’t too worried anymore. After being mesmerized by the beauty of Madera Canyon, I had developed a false sense of security, believing that the rest of the trip would be a breeze. I could not have been more wrong.
The start of the day was perfectly fine. My mom, dad, grandma, sister and I all crammed ourselves into the rental car and headed to the White Elephant, a ginormous thrift store that had a pretty good selection of one of my favorite things in the world – CHEAP BOOKS!
After the White Elephant, my dad decided we’d all go to Kit Peak whether we liked it or not. He claimed it was a short 30 minute drive from where we were, but once we drove for those 30 minutes, we found out my dad’s calculations were wrong and that Kit Peak was another hour or so away. It was nearly noon and everyone had become “hangry” as their stomachs rumbled away. I, on the other hand, had completely lost my appetite. The anxiety of having to switch plans so abruptly left me completely devoid of any sense of hunger.
My dad decided he’d head on into Tuscon in search of a place to eat. I was praying he would just stop at a Subway where I could munch on a vegetable salad, but that’s was unfortunately not the case. Instead he decided to stop at an authentic Mexican sit-down restaurant, which was literally my worst nightmare. Not only am I deathly afraid of Mexican cuisine (all the sour cream, cheese, and fats are enough to make me go into an anxiety-induced coma), I also DESPISE sit-down restaurants. Unlike Subway, I can’t watch the chefs prepare my food. I have no idea if my dish has any hidden fats or if they prepared my meal with buckets upon buckets of calorific ingredients.
As we sat down at our table, I flat out refused to look at the menu. My palms began to sweat, my mouth opened wide as I began to hyperventilate, and my legs kept on jiggling – all classic signs I had been consumed by a massive anxiety attack. As I was trapped in this uncontrollable state, my dad kept scolding me – telling me I was acting like a child, that I needed to grow up, that I was an embarrassment. . . .all the typical things he says when my anxiety and eating disorder take over. My mom on the other hand, tried to be a bit more helpful. Instead of repeating my dad’s unsympathetic comments, she noticed I was struggling and attempted to calm me down. She told me in a soft, soothing voice that everything would be alright and then proceeded to help me picked out a dish that I was comfortable with on the menu. By the time the waiter delivered our lunches, my mom had helped me quiet my eating disorder voice and I was able to fully collect myself. At the end of the restaurant ordeal, my mom said she was proud of me and obviously, that meant a lot. Although my dad said something similar to me, I could tell by the tone of his voice that he was disappointed in my behavior. He failed to realize that this “behavior” I exhibited was not me trying to act unruly and ruin the trip, it was a manifestation of my eating disorder – an uncontrollable medical condition.
Unlike Wednesday, Thursday was benign. I stayed at my grandparents’ hacienda most of the day, working on my coloring books. At around 2:30 in the afternoon, my dad and I drove down to visit the San Xavier Mission. Since my father and I both are quite spiritual people (my dad is a Methodist pastor while I on the other hand am still searching for a religion that suits my beliefs), I thought that this visit would give my dad and I the opportunity to bond and enjoy ourselves. Even though it was a good experience, the wall that was built after the restaurant fiasco continued to divide my dad and I. We were silent most of the time we ere there and on the drive back to my grandparents’, we never said a single word to each other.
On Friday, we returned to Wisconsin. It’s Sunday now and my dad and I still are not really talking to each other. We continue to quarrel and I honestly I am heartbroken. I only have a couple months left to make memories with my family before I head off to North Central College in the Fall. I don’t want start this next chapter in my life without mending my strained relationship with my dad, but I don’t know where to begin.