Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Words vs. numbers

Many days, I spend my time with words
Writing them, reading them, picking the right ones
For this or that
But my mind used to be occupied
With numbers.

They crept in slowly
As all things do
At first I cared not too much for numbers

Except in math class (of course)
Or when counting my allowance (even better)
Or when counting laps in swimming
In the 9-12 hours I would spend in training, every week
In the pool.

But then, I went to a new school
3500 miles from my home.
I begged to go, was so excited
As any 17 year old would be.

But the swimming was harder
I could not keep up
Training sessions were longer
I was awkward, and not good at making friends
On the team.

I dropped off the team
But would still eat whatever I wanted
I was stressed, unhappy
And the pounds
Crept up.

And suddenly someone who had not been so aware of numbers
Became more painfully so.

135 pounds is the weight I started at
185 is the number that I grew to
Over the first 12 weeks
Of school.

When reality finally hit (the numbers on the scale could not lie)
I determined to bring that number down
To something more manageable.

9 minutes of running, in the evening after studies
Was the most that I could manage.
Then 11 minutes
Then 13.

I was out of shape, exhausted
But determined to make the numbers on the scale
Go down.

1600 was the amount of calories I allowed myself daily
Then 1400
Then 1200.

I remembered my caloric tallies
By scribbling my numbers
On any spare paper I could find.

I'd list every item from breakfast, from lunch, or from drinks
These would be noted, then tallied again
In one hour or sooner
Just to be sure
That it was right.

Some wrote study notes in class
But I obsessed instead over numbers
And how many pounds I might lose
In that 1 day.

By this time, I was losing weight
And picking up steam doing it.
I was down to 140 pounds
Looking like myself again
Then 135 pounds
But why stop there

If 135 looked good,
130 would be better.
Or even less
Would be best
Of all.

Down to 130 pounds, then under
Eating 1000 calories a day, and running 60 minutes or longer
Then down down to 600 calories a day, and running 90 minutes or longer
Then down to 400 or 350 calories a day, and running fewer and fewer minutes
Because I was too exhausted
To even walk up the hills.

But I could still sit in my chair
I was bony now, and sitting hurt, but still I perched
And wrote my numbers
Over and over, calculating calories
Just to be sure.

112 was the number of pounds I hit before going to the hospital.
16 was the number of days that I stayed
On the ward.
40 were the beats per minute that my heart got down to
In an arrhythmia
On the night I agreed to go in.

1 was the number of days that they put up with my bullshit
Before telling me I needed to drink 4 Ensure meal replacement shakes
And eat 3 square meals a day
Or they would start feeding me

2 was the number of doctors I cursed at
I said they couldn't make me eat
That they didn't understand, that no-one did
They could not grasp the calamity
That might befall
If I had to gain weight
Once again.

4 is the number of hospital gowns I stole
6 is the number of magazines and books I took from the patient lounge
As I tried like hell to take back any portion of control
And assuage my rage.

1 is the number of my shoes they let me keep
Just one shoe, the right one
So I could not run away.
I thought this was ridiculous and ran away anyway
Well, just for one brief period.

7 is the number of minutes I stood on the streets outside the hospital
In my bare feet and gown.
I stood blinking at the grey sky and towering buildings
Amazed at the bustle and sudden presence of pedestrians
And traffic all around.

I considered a taxi, then realized I had no wallet, no place to go
No place to run or hide
Except back to the ward

My 1 way to get out of there
Was on my own 2 feet
But I had to eat

So I ate.

I went back to the ward, ordered one lunch, then another
2000, 3000, 4000 calories and more
On went the pounds.
113, 115, 116 went the scale
And the higher the numbers crept
The more and more I seethed

But I ate.

I don't know how many pounds I left there with.
They congratulated me, told me I was doing well
Because the scale told them one thing
But my anger inside told me another.

It would take many years further
Over 15, probably more
To find more sense of balance in the numbers
Between what I ate
And what I weighed
And learn how that equated in part to my health
But not at all to my soul.

The struggle continues even today
Though less so on some days
Than on others.

I still read labels
And notice numbers
But more often I read books
And pay attention to words

Words like smart, and love
Compassion, and thoughtfulness
Family and friends
Running, happy, and healthy

These words are better than focusing
On the numbers on a scale
Or the calories in a day.

Numbers are not bad
But like anything, they can be abused
When assigned too much power or incorrect value
Then scribbled over and over
On pages held between my own 2
Fervent hands.


  1. Replies
    1. Thank you Jay :) I hope you are doing well!

    2. Doing good Tiffany....enjoying your blog...happy trails :)

  2. I had no idea. But at the same time I saw your history in your eyes when I met you 2 years ago at Tour De Topanga run led by Jeff Biddle. I saw a young woman with an incredibly mature even weathered gaze. I'm drawn to your pain, suffering, search for self: past and present. I learn from you and find strength in myself to carry on. I'm here for you. But I don't promise to be polite or run slowly (ever).

    1. I would never ask you to do either of those things. And yes I had forgotten that run was the first time we met. That was a really fun day!

  3. I remember you telling me about the sitting, and being cold. I think of it in the winter, and I am so happy that you are not thin and cold anymore, but instead are healthy and strong. Always remember how much you are loved, and how proud we always are of you.

    1. You are sweet, thank you Jen :) I am glad too, for many reasons!

  4. Wow. That was awesome. My obsessions took me other places (or maybe the same places different ways), but always the numbers...yet I can barely balance a checkbook.