Mary was in her forties and had survived many years of living with anorexia. I was immediately drawn to her. She was a sweet, funny, shy, intelligent woman. The great love of her life was her two cats.
Her body was ravaged by anorexia symptoms – her electrolytes constantly out of balance, she suffered from osteoporosis, her skin was chronically dry and therefore prone to infections … but that’s not what stood out about her. There was something delightful about her quiet voice, I loved the stories she told about her cats – and she was a truly and deeply caring person.
I met her when her illness had moved out of a stage of being chronically life threatening. She was under the constant care of an incredibly knowledgeable and caring physician at one of Vancouver’s eating disorders programs.
Ready to move on
Already a capable and reliable volunteer at a women’s shelter, she was ready to move on to more activity in her life. I feel fortunate that this is when I met her. Through a series of conversations, we figured out what was important in her life right now, and then we looked for a way to incorporate more of it. The result? She now works for a craft store.
“My life is so much fuller now,” she told me the other day. We talked a lot about what’s important for Mary and found out that she enjoyed a number of things – her cats, of course, as well as reading, going for walks, helping people, and doing crafts.
It was when talking about crafts that her voice became really animated. She got into quite a bit of detail when she told the story of the first time she found a knitting pattern for a winter outfit for little dogs.
I love this part of my job! I love listening to people talking about things that really matter to them. When they do, there’s colour in their words, and smells and sounds – better than watching a movie!
Finding the right fit
It was obvious that we had hit the jackpot. The next thing was imagining what it would be like to work with crafts – that’s when we came up with the idea of working in a craft store. It helped that she had some experience working a cash register. But what was really important was to think about what it would be like emotionally and physically to work in such an environment.
With Mary’s volunteering and medical schedule, and still needing to deal with her anorexia symptoms on a day-to-day basis, a full-time job was out of the question. For a lot of people with anorexia, part of dealing with it is to keep the perfectionist monster at bay. A full-time job would soon wake it up. That’s when we found that little craft store, where she now works a few days a week. And guess what – it specializes in crocheting and knitting, which is perfect for Mary and her little dog clothes!
I’ve met a lot more people with anorexia over the years. Interestingly, there seems to be a bit of an attraction. Even though I personally have never struggled with undereating, there’s something that I “get” about anorexia. Somewhere at a gut level, I feel I can really understand the body image that is so different from how everyone else sees you, the desire to control the world around you through refusing to eat, the ever-increasing stepping-up of getting thinner, thinner, thinner …
It’s about being a person
Here is how I see it: even if you are struggling with anorexia (or with what looks like anorexia symptoms), you are still you. You are a person, a person with interests, fears, preferences, dislikes, with your own set of views about the world, with your own way of making people laugh, think, and talk. That’s far more important than the label of “anorexic”.
That means that no matter what, we can connect on the human level. Give me a call or send me an email if you’re interested in talking about that.
And take care!
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