You may have read my previous blog posts about my experience in the troubled teen industry. It’s not a necessary read to understand this post, but if you so please, here are parts 1, 2, 3, and 4 of that series. We’ll begin en media res, the best kind of res.
It’s 5:30 in the morning on the last day of my wilderness program. I can tell it’s that early because the birds are just waking up, but my peers are still sleeping. Plus I have my insulin pump with the time on it. It’s my last morning waking up under the trees. Without the confines of walls and a roof. I feel sick. Without waking the others, I tip-toe about 50 yards away to do my business. I’ll spare you the details, but stuff comes out of both ends. Maybe it’s something I ate. Or maybe I didn’t wait long enough for the iodine to filter my water. Sometimes I was too thirsty to care about being safe. Whatever it is, it’s about to ruin my day.
I had dreamt about this day for 7 weeks. All of us kids talked about the day we’d get out as a way to keep our spirits up when we were tired, or cold, or thirsty. What would we eat? What would we do? “I’m gonna eat three burgers and a bunch of fries from In-N-Out” most of the kids would say. I wasn’t much of a meat-eater, but I dreamt of the taste of sweet cereal on my tongue. The day was finally here, but I couldn’t stand to think about food.
The past 7 weeks had been hard, but I was proud. I had survived intense rashes in every nook of my body. I had survived being a type one diabetic in an environment not meant for type one diabetics. Hardest of all, I had survived MRSA, an infection that took over half of my thigh in the course of 10 days before I finally made it to the doctor. The infection required 8 total trips to the doctor to drain and wrap the wound, but I had survived.
Here I am, on the day I had dreamt of for weeks, feeling sick.
I meet my mom back at base camp. She hugs me despite the 7 weeks of smells clinging to my body. We would be together in Utah for 3 days during my transition to my boarding school in Montana. “What should we eat?” She asks excitedly, probably holding back comments on my ripe body odor. I tell her I don’t feel well and don’t want anything to eat.
The next few days, when I had planned on gorging at buffets, going to the movies, and learning more about how Michael Jackson died, I end up just laying in bed. My mom finally can’t take the smell anymore, and forces me into the bath. I had gotten so used to my smell, that I hadn’t noticed it was that bad.
I would be starting my new school in a couple of days, and here I am, unable to stand for more than a few minutes without getting dizzy and nauseous. I was already nervous for the new school, but this sickness, whatever it is, has me even more concerned.
When we get to the school a few days later, my mom informs the staff that I had been feeling sick. They tell her not to worry—we can take it a little easy until I start to feel better. My first few days are orientation. I learn about the rules (better known as “agreements”), dress code, and expectations. There’s more standing and physical labor than my stomach can handle. During our standing circle times, I sit. I take frequent bathroom breaks. Everyone is suspicious. The new kid is “sick”. They figure this is part of my troubled history. Maybe I pretend to be sick because of some childhood trauma. Maybe I was bitten by a dog or something, but blocked out the memory. That’s how trauma works, right?
But let me tell you, I love food. My obsession, bingeing, and hiding of food is part of the reason I got sent away. It’s even outlined in the “why we sent you away” letter my parents sent me during my wilderness program. (If you were self-conscious during your teenage years, imagine receiving a letter confirming all of the things you worried others thought of you. It’s even worse than it sounds). Despite my love of food, I hardly eat. The smell of the decadent desserts we get on Saturday nights sends me to the bathroom and then the couch. None of these kids or adults know me though. They don’t know how much I love food. They assume I’m faking it.
I don’t go to the doctor. I figure the doctor will just confirm that I’m faking it. I lose about 15 pounds over the course of 3 or 4 weeks. Then my stomach settles. My appetite slowly increases. I’m able to stand for as long as the staff expects me to stand. I’m able to shovel and do all the work that I have to do outside with the others. Thank God! Can you imagine going to school and not being able to give 100% when you’re shoveling rocks!?!? It’s embarrassing.
I had survived my first few weeks at my new boarding school. With Giardia. Now that the Giardia was gone, I could focus less on feeling sick and more on the fact that I was going to spend the next 16 months in a cult.
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