I’ve now gotten to the point where I’ve begun self-narrating my life as though I’m in some teen TV drama on FreeForm. Cue the emo music and angsty gazing-out-the-window camera shots.
Nah – things are actually doing just fine. I’ve been talking to my friends and family nonstop on FaceTime, so although I’m quarantined alone in a 500 square ft. apartment in Greenwich Village, I don’t feel as isolated as it may seem from the outside.
Sure, securing groceries, toilet paper, and Lysol products has been challenging, but far and away, the grand consensus among my friends and I, is that the most difficult aspect of all of this is how long the days are…with no end in sight.
There’s a certain exasperation in everyone’s tone. One of weariness. One of patience wearing thin. One of arduous waiting that is rapidly growing old.
And I certainly feel it, too. I’m an extrovert, and even the simple act of working from a co-working space was something that, I didn’t realize, was so beneficial to my soul and mental wellbeing.
But thinking about it — because, really….that’s all I do these days…think and ponder and write and contemplate — I realized I have lived through a similar season before.
One where my patience – and honestly, my humility – was put to the absolute test.
And that was when I lost all of my hair, during my anorexia.
Now let me just pause here and set the scene. Growing up, I had the most thick, mind-of-its-own mane of long, flowing, curly hair. Ringlets. It was truly, beautiful. My signature look.
And during my anorexia, it all fell out.
Hair loss is one of the most emotionally devastating side effects of anorexia. You see, when you’re so dangerously depleted and malnourished as I was, the body goes into survival mode. At 78 pounds, my body was doing everything it could just to keep me alive. So it was channeling everything into my “essential functions” — my organs: heart, lungs, and brain. And as a result, hair growth, (which is made from protein) — is a function the body neglects, in an effort to simply keep the heart beating while in such catastrophic distress.
So, I went from being an 18 year old with a head full of luscious curls, to literally about 2 inches of dry, brittle peach fuzz.
It was the most humiliating period of my life.
And the thing about hair — ask anyone who has ever regretted getting bangs — is that it doesn’t simply grow back overnight. It is a long, timely process.
My hair growth period took more than a year, simply to get back to chin length, collar bone length. A year, of waking up every morning to my hideous reflection – one I felt I truly deserved. The shame and guilt I carried around from my eating disorder made me believe that my outside appearance finally matched my insides.
Not only was I going through a season of overwhelming change — having to gain over 30 pounds, and wrestling with the crippling negative body image and self talk that berated my mind constantly. But I had to navigate those hostile waters while physically looking like a hairless monster.
I mean, there’s something so mystifying about a woman’s hair. It is her allure. Her femininity. Her flirtyness. And in my case, very much like my personality. I used to always joke that my crazy hair was a reflection of my fun-loving and grab-the-gusto personality.
That season truly taught me some of the most powerful lessons of my life. And contemplating the current state of patient endurance that we’re all facing right now with the coronavirus…I have a feeling that we’re all going to come out the other side having learned some incredibly valuable lessons, too.
So what did I learn? Two things.
First — that one’s beauty has absolutely nothing to do with one’s hair.
This was the theme for my entire recovery from anorexia. I learned that my value and worth as a human came from one truth: that I was made by God. It was nothing I earned, or nothing that I achieved. I couldn’t discredit it or be exempt from it. No. My life has value because I am His.
And therefore, I am beautiful. You are beautiful. We are all beautiful because we are reflections of He who made us. That is where my beauty comes from.
So every morning, when I had to face the mirror and see my reflection looking like Gollum from Lord of the Rings…I had to dig deep and remind myself that my beauty comes from my heart — from Jesus shining through it. And that season trained me, not only to see that in myself, but in others, too.
And lastly — and most applicably — it taught me to never take things — like my hair — for granted ever again, and to be so incredibly grateful for it.
I embrace bad hair days now. Why? Because it means I have hair.
When all of this COVID19 craziness is said and done, and we’re allowed to go out, and socialize, and return to a monotonous job with co-workers that often grate at our nerves…we’re going to have such a new perspective.
I know, personally, I will never take for granted those moments of togetherness ever again.
I’m going to hug people a little tighter, make goodbyes a little more meaningful, show up on time to gatherings, put in the little extra effort to see a loved one, appreciate the sunshine and a full refrigerator, and be a cheerful worker. Why? Because I’ve gone through life without those things.
Sometimes it takes a little bit of deprivation to truly appreciate those blessings we so often overlook every day.
To close…there’s an interaction I had with my dad once growing up that I’ll never forget. We had just gotten back from a vacation. And he didn’t have any dinner because he was gassing up the car while my mom and I got a Subway sandwich at the gas station.
And we got home, and I was all concerned that he didn’t have dinner and there was nothing in the house. And he looked and me and said, “Caralyn, sometimes it’s good to go to bed hungry.”
And for the life of me — literally, for years — I could not understand why the heck he said that. Until literally just right now. That’s why. Because it is good to experience what it feels like to actually need something, in order to truly appreciate that which you have.
What have you grown to appreciate during this quarantine?
“Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him” James 1:12
“This is what the Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life.” Ez 37:5
A big thank you to my foundational sponsor, BetterHelp Online Therapy. I cannot begin to express how beneficial therapy was for my recovery from anorexia. Speak with an online therapist. Or check out content about eating disorders from BetterHelp.
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