I Thought It Was The Only Thing I Could Control

It’s three o’clock in the afternoon. My partner asks me what I’ve eaten today. I don’t reply. They ask again.

“Coffee,” I say quietly.

“Coffee is not food, Sam,” they say sternly. “You need to eat something.”

“I know,” I reply. “But I need to work.”

“You did this yesterday.”

“Because I needed to work.”

This was Justification #897 and my partner was not anymore swayed by #897 than they were by the hundreds that came before it.

I was falling behind on my work (falling? Who am I kidding, I had already fallen, I’d all but collided with the ground). The kitchen was in disarray because we’re painting (it was, the only thing that was truly usable was the microwave). There wasn’t a lot of food in the apartment (there wasn’t, especially that which can be made with just a microwave).

When I stop eating, I never seem to run out of excuses.

Back in high school, it was because I didn’t like the food my parents bought, I didn’t like food (period), I was too busy with my schoolwork, I was too busy rehearsing for the musical,ย  I just forgot, I forgot a lot, I forget really often, I’m just stressed, can you get off my back?

When I get overwhelmed, I don’t make a conscious decision to stop eating. It creeps up on me – the chaos around me is so distracting that I don’t even realize I’m doing it at first. Then suddenly, the headaches start happening, my hands won’t stop shaking, and a loved one looks at me and says, “Are you okay? You don’t look so good.”

And then someone suggests that I get something to eat, and I resist. And I don’t know why I resist. The excuses start pouring out of my mouth.

Buried beneath the pile of excuses, though, is a desperate plea: Let me hold onto this.

Please.

I just need to have a grip on this one thing. I just need to feel like I’m in control of something. And I think about everyone I’m disappointing, and I think about everything that’s unfinished, and I think about all the ways I could do better and, please.

Give me this.

And when I have everything back under control, I promise – at the end of the day, no, the end of the week, no – I’ll do some self-care, I’ll get a good night’s sleep, yes, I know, I’ll eat.

And I pause.

It’s been eight hours. I’ve had 100 calories and it’s beenย eight hours. It’s an iced coffee. It comes in a can and I drank it because I needed to stay awake so I could work from eight until five without taking any breaks.

Over on the bookshelf, there are two other empty cans. From the last two days.

This is not control.

Before it was coffee out of a can, it was apples. Well, one apple.

That’s not the lunch that my mother lovingly packed for me – it was what was left, after I stowed the granola bar in my locker, gave the muffins to some kid in my music class, gave the sandwich to someone in Algebra, and kept the apple for myself.

I was a shell of somebody then, both emotionally and physically.

I start to hate myself a little when I think about how restricting like this can feel good – can feel really, really good – because it gives me this illusion that my feet are on the ground.

It’s not true. But as long as I don’t think too hard, it can feel true.

But it’s not true.

Just now, Justification #898 makes an appearance in my mind as I’m writing: I just work really hard. It’s my work ethic. I have ambition. Dedication.

It feels true. True enough.

It’s not true.

I promise to eat something and my partner, trusting me, lays down for a nap.

I’m staring at the cans sitting on the bookshelf. I hear my roommate working in the kitchen, sanding the cabinets.

Justification #899: The kitchen is occupied.

An email appears in my inbox and I’m terrified. I’m terrified that it’s someone here to remind me that I’ve forgotten to do something, or that I did something wrong, or that I missed another deadline, that I disappointed them – this week, I remember, has been a week of disappointments.

Justification #900: I just keep saying “yes” to everything. And then suddenly I’m working 50+ hours a week. And then I panic. And then I fail. Why do I do that?

The email isn’t terrible. It’s the opposite of terrible. The email is a reader telling me that I’ll never understand what I’ve done for them.

I take a deep breath. The sharp inhale is making me dizzy, and I reach out for the bed post, trying to steady myself.

No more.

No more justifications. No more excuses. Not another day, or another apple, or another iced coffee in a can – this is not control.

This is not control and I know this, even if it feels true, or rather, even if I need it to be true.

“Your words give me something to hold onto.”

Right now, so do yours. I can’t pour from an empty cup. I can’t live on a can of iced coffee, though I’ve certainly tried.

So I start a new pile: Reasons.

Reason #1: This email.

Because an illusion of control is not more important than my life, this work, or the people who care about them both.

14 thoughts on “I Thought It Was The Only Thing I Could Control

  1. Gavin Wyer says:

    Sam I get it. It has always been my habit to stop eating whenever I get too stressed. Like you, I often don’t even notice for a few days that I have stopped eating. As I write this I am shaking because I have let my blood sugar get too low and I am diabetic. I am eating, diabeties kind of forces the issue. It took me a very long time to understand that this about control and, clearly I still struggle with it. I moved a few days ago so I just wanted to finish some unpacking, and maybe do the laundry, and… So yeah, I get it.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Loony says:

    I can’t say that I have been here too, in regards to the eating issue, but this piece is so beautifully written and I can relate to the need for control when everything seems to be snowballing. Managing stress is something everyone should work on, some people more than others, and although we are told to just calm down or cut ourselves some slack, it is rarely that easy. I’m deeply sorry that you struggle with this, but I hope you know that you are never alone and that you will make it past this, as your second list clearly shows. All the best ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Laura P. Schulman, MD, MA says:

    Well, you know, I was a restrictive anorexic for a few years, and for me it was because the only thing I COULD control was what went in my mouth.

    The other thing that puts me off my feed is depression. Your writing sounds depressed to me. Now, that’s ME and not YOU, so you’ll have to (and are) the judge of that.

    Sending you good juju to get hungry and eat something you really enjoy. I mean, nutrition is good and all that, but for some reason right now even though it’s snowing to beat the band, hellishly cold, etc., all I want is a hot fudge sundae. A great big one, with, like, five different flavors of gelato, oozing with hot fudge and maybe a little caramel, all topped with a blob of whipped cream the size of my head. There are nutrients in that, right? There’s milk. I have to take lactase or else you will be able to smell my farts from there. And then I’ll have cramps and shits for a week. But hey, it’s milk. And plenty of chocolate. That’s one of the five food groups:
    Salt, sugar, grease, drugs, and chocolate.

    OK, this is making me pissed off because there is a really, really good ice cream place right down the road from here and it’s CLOSED and plus it’s snowing to beat the band…maybe next week.

    You feel betta, he’ah?!

    Like

    • Sam Dylan Finch says:

      I kind of wonder if I’m rapid cycling with my bipolar right now, because the writing DOES feel depressed and I did feel depressed writing it. But I’ve been bouncing back and forth emotionally, sometimes having the very best days and other times feeling really disheartened. Something for me to keep in mind moving forward…

      And also, now I want a sundae. I’m going to a happy hour tomorrow at a diner and I might actually be able to procure one. Thanks for the inspiration. ๐Ÿ˜‰ I hope you get yours soon.

      Like

  4. Aura Eadon says:

    As someone who has recovered from bulimia and anorexia, I totally understand you. I have to say the illusion of control seems powerful, but ultimately it’s just that an illusion. In my case bulimia was one way of self-harming and a side-effect of my deep self-loathing and depression. After I had worked on learning to love myself, bulimia lost its hold on me.

    I’m not saying that this is the case with you, as everyone is different. I just want to say, I understand where you are and how it feels. And I love the pile of reasons instead of the pile of excuses. And I think your partner is awesome, and they care deeply for you. But I think the number one reason could perhaps be that you love and care for yourself and your gifts and how can you share your gifts with the world if you don’t take care of yourself?

    I recall you mentioning at some point that you’d not skip BP meds as a goal, is that correct? You are not skipping them, are you? Also, perhaps consider if they may need to be changed? This is one thing my therapist always insisted for my depression meds: keep track if they work and if they didn’t then tell my doctor.

    Hang in there and take care of yourself, okay?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Anna says:

    Hi Sam

    You are beautiful! I’ve just started reading your blog and I appreciate and acknowledge your strength and your ability and willingness to honour your vulnerability as a human being. The rawness in your writing is inspiring.

    I am currently training to be a yoga teacher and one day want to start a trans and queer inclusive yoga class (here in Melbourne). So being able to read stories like yours is really important to me.

    And important in affirming my own identity.

    Thank you x

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Eli Minkoff says:

    I am really sorry to hear about how hard you have it. to be fair, I have not gone through anything comparable, but I just want you to know that there are hundreds if not thousands of people who have never met you, but still care very deeply about you.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Gautam Varma says:

    Really enjoyed reading this. These scenarios happen to all of us at some point of time, and its articles like this that make us stand up and take notice.

    Like

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