My apologies again. Part two is just as long as part one. Thank you to those who make it all the way to the bottom and to those who only manage a glance. This really is a therapeutic journey for me, and I feel privileged that I can write it down here, let it go from my grasp and move forward.
The last year of my university degrees stretched out in front of me. Only a year left and I would be free to get a job, travel, and discover what I really wanted from my life.
Only a year. A year filled with practicum placements at hospitals, community nutrition centres, and exercise physiology clinics.
I was a wreck. Our university lecturers had warned us that this was the most important year of our study; one false move, one failure, and we would have to complete the whole year again. I was already uncertain about my skills, and I have never taken feedback very well. I walked into my clinical hospital placement a shaking, nervous mess.
Every day I scurried around the halls from patient to patient clutching my folder stuffed full of information. Every week I sat at the desk with my supervisors and received feedback on my progress.
Every evening I studied, and stuffed myself with food – anything I could get my hands on – and every night I cried myself to sleep.
Hospital wards require special people to walk the floor and care for those in need of help. It takes a certain kind of spirit to touch a patient’s life and share their hardest moments without letting it tear a hole in your soul.
I admire those people because I am not one of them. I have chinks in my armour, places where other people can get through and the heartache becomes my own. I am not one of the special spirits who can walk the halls of a hospital.
My year in the oncology wards of the hospital revealed those chinks in my armour. It tore my soul wide open. I didn’t know how to deal with it, I couldn’t process the pain I saw everyday that I couldn’t do anything about.
I was young. Life had lessons to teach me and I was tender.
This hole inside me, the shadows of pain and sadness that cast themselves over my mind, the feeling of helplessness. I numbed it with food.
I would eat anything I could. Peanut butter became my best friend. Not a healthy amount spread on bread, but spoonful after spoonful coating anything I could find. Digestive biscuits dunked in cups of tea. Bowls of ice cream. Bars of dark chocolate. Nutella – by the jar. Leftovers from dinner eaten in the darkened kitchen after everyone had gone to bed.
I filled the hole with food, and yet it never got any shallower. The more I filled myself up, the further I moved away from myself, the emptier I became.
Ironically, I also worked as a weight loss counsellor during this time – selling shakes and bars for a chemist. So, I put myself on this restrictive plan. I tried, I lost a few kilograms. I cried from low blood sugar and an empty feeling that just wouldn’t go away.
I broke. I made cookies. I ate the whole batch. I cried.
Then, I passed my internship at the hospital.
I walked out the door that day and felt a little different.
I started my placement at community nutrition centre close to home. I had an amazing supervisor who recognised that I was broken by my time in clinical practice.
He helped me see where my real passion for health and wellness lay. He nourished me with ideas for what life could be like if I owned my future. He told me to get my shit together.
So, I did.
Earlier in the year my parents and my darling Casey had tried the same thing. They went behind my back and organised a trip to a psychologist for me. They were trying to do the right thing. They could see that I was slipping away from them, retracting into myself, and blanketing out the good things in my life.
I was so mad at them. I felt betrayed and singled out.
Hindsight is a beautiful thing. Now, I see that they were right. I was just too mired in pool of pity and doubt to see it at the time.
So, after my supervisor told me to get my life in order I went back to the psychologist that I had seen earlier in the year. I learnt about the way I responded to stress and turmoil in my life. I learnt what to do about my poor sleep and the way I used food to numb myself.
I took the advice of my supervisor and applied for a job that was somewhere between clinical practice and community practice: research into healthy lifestyle change. I started paying attention to the way my body responded to food. I started moving my body.
I stopped stuffing the holes in my life with food, and started to realise what a nourished life was about.
No longer was I full of food. Full of sadness. Full of self-pity and doubt.
I was moving towards a nourished life. The journey had just begun.