The title, Life Swap, is inspired by two things: the Daily Post‘s question, “who would you like to have spend a day as you and what do you hope they’d learn from the experience,” as well as the reality TV show Wife Swap that I used to watch on weekends home from boarding school. Oh how times have changed: Wife Swap has been replaced with little to no television – holding a job while interning, volunteering, attending university, studying for the monstrous test I have to take to get into graduate school, and post-undergrad graduation planning leave just enough free time to squeeze in some imperative exercise, and to eat and sleep – and the family sized bag of Nacho Cheese Doritos I’d eat while watching Wife Swap have been replaced with hippie-style food served on real plates. But one thing remains the same, and that is my unhealthy relationship with my body, a relationship that troubles my father as much as it does me, if not more. For this reason, I’d like my dad to have to spend a day as me, and more for his sake than mine; stepping into my shoes could be healing.
My eating disorder took a tremendous toll on my dad: he lost his incredible sense of humor, impressive social skills, and drive. In the depths of my illness, I was unaware of his blankness and grey complexion, but once I started to regain myself, I realized just how stressed he had become. Three years of watching his daughter – the girl he cried with joy over on the day she was born, the girl he taught to sail, to tie her shoelaces, to play tennis, to water ski – slip away left him gray, wrinkled, and drained; the daughter that once brought him so much life had aged him far beyond his years.
The listless number of books about anorexia nervosa my dad read, as well as the family therapy he wholeheartedly participated in, educated him on why people develop eating disorders, but, understandably, he still struggles to “get” my ordeal. Plus, because he suffers from a sort of PTSD from the whole ordeal, he is hyper aware of everything I do. And this is why, for just one day, he needs to be me.
As me, my dad would learn that calling home does not mean I lack independence; it means that I need reassurance. That not reporting a wild weekend of partying does not mean I’m a loser; it means I appreciate the self-reflection inherent in me-time. That going for a run does not mean I’m spiraling back into the pits of anorexia; it means I’m seeking energy, refreshment, clarity, connection. That saying I’m struggling with food does not mean I’m on the path to re-hospitalization; it means I’m working through some sh** that’s stirring up some crazy emotions. That saying I miss you does not mean I’m failing at life as an adult; it means I appreciate your company. That saying I’m homesick does not mean I’m chickening out on adulthood and thus want to starve myself to shape my body into that of a small child who needs to be cared for; it means I love you. That being vegetarian does not mean I’m “being anorexic.” That reading health blogs does not mean I’m being obsessive about food and figures. That talking about the years I spent in the grips of anorexia does not mean I want to go back; it means I’m still trying to make sense of it all. That saying I’m going to make my own dinner does not mean I’m falling back into my eating disorder; it means I JUST DON’T LIKE LASAGNE. That saying I’m having a “fat day” does not mean I’m going to start starving myself again; it means I’m anxious. That saying I want to do a couple more runs on the ski hill does not mean I want to burn more calories; it means skiing’s f’in awesome, man. That saying I haven’t found anyone date-worthy doesn’t mean I’m going to turn into a crazy cat lady; it means I’m rockin’ it as a SINGLE, INDEPENDENT, HAPPY-GO-LUCKY, HEALTHY, and AMBITIOUS young LADY.
And that’s enough learning for one day.