It’s kind of ironic that when you think of a teacher you think of an apple. A nice bright red apple sitting on the corner of her desk. When I think back to elementary school I think of apples on teacher’s desks, apple notepads, apple name tags, apples everywhere! Today I am a teacher and my students often bring me an apple but not because they associate the apple with me as a teacher but because they associate an apple with the only piece of food that got me through the day.
A petite green apple cut up into slices was my choice of food that I would eat each and every day as my mid-morning snack. My students have snack time so while they nibbled on their snacks at their desks I would eat my apple during small group instruction. My kids would watch me as I took bites of my juicy apple and sometimes ask why I didn’t bring something else. I replied, “I love apples and they’re good for you! An apple a day will keep the doctor away!” Wow what a contradiction that was. I guess if you eat a healthy diet each day and include an apple into your diet, it is healthy and may keep the doctor away but definitely not while you’re restricting. The apple was one of the few things that gave me the energy to get through the day without fainting.
There was one student who in particular who had a special place in my heart. His blonde hair and blue eyes had me the first time I saw him. He was such a sweet young boy who wasn’t afraid to speak his mind. He caught on to my apple a day habit quickly and started to bring me an apple from home whenever he had one. He would rush through the door in the morning straight to my desk holding an apple in his hand with the biggest smile on his face. He knew that apple would make me happy and it made him happy to do that for me. One of the most saddening memories I have though was with this student of mine. We had just come in from recess and it had been an extremely warm day out. Since I was so thin whenever it was hot outside, my veins would rise in my arms and become extremely visible. As we were walking back to the classroom, he grabbed my hand and sweetly asked me, “Ms. R why do your veins do that? I can see them all. I notice they do that a lot. Why?” My heart broke into pieces in that moment. I stumbled and tried to find an answer for him but I had none that he would understand. I just shook my head and said “well sometimes when it gets hot out they like to show themselves more, not quite sure why but it’s okay I promise.” Another day, another lie. It wasn’t okay and wasn’t going to be okay for a long time. Little did he know between the apple each day and my veins popping out that his teacher, the person he couldn’t wait to see every day, was living (or trying to stay alive) with an eating disorder.
I remember it vividly when my world went black. I was taking my students to the bathroom and I was pacing the hallway when all of a sudden my eye sight went. I couldn’t see anything and I thought at any moment I was going to fall to the ground. I closed my eyes and prayed that I would not drop on the ground in front of my kids, that I would not let them down and cause them to panic and that I would not let anyone know (my students or coworkers) that ED had broken me down so much that I could not stand up. Thank God after some praying and breathing I was able to open my eyes and see. Everything was foggy as first but my senses slowly came back to me. I knew I needed to eat and that my blood sugar was insanely low but ED was in my head telling me I was fine and did not deserve to feed myself so I listened and went back into my classroom and finished out my day, without food.
It’s these times that when I look back I want to cringe and cry for myself in pity. I cannot believe I let myself get that low and unhealthy to the point of almost fainting. It’s times like these that I know I never want to feel or relive again. It makes me feel bad for my poor bones who were working so hard to keep me standing upright. I was a 22 year old woman yet when I went to the doctor to get my blood pressure checked they had to use an extra small children’s band, that my friends is not normal. Or when you sit in a chair and your protruding tailbone hits the bottom of the seat so you can’t get comfortable no matter which side you lean on. It feels so good today to be able to sit in a chair and not wince.
As a teacher you are a role model, those smiling faces and innocent minds look up to you each day. I have to work through the guilt I feel today for putting my class through what they saw my first and second year of teaching as I was in the depths of restricting. I know I must have been insanely moody, irritable and tired which is the complete opposite of what you picture and want a teacher to be. I didn’t have much patience or energy because my body could barely keep me going nonetheless a group of 25 kids. Quite frankly I don’t know how I did it but I know going forward I never want my students to look back on their year with me and feel as if they were alone. I especially want my female students to see a strong woman who is confident standing in front of them. It is amazing how young girls are when they start comparing themselves to others and pick on their bodies or their friend’s bodies. I have had multiple female students say things to me such as, “I need to go on a diet” or “my stomach is too big”; things a 7 year old should never say or be thinking about.
Society has completely warped the perception to girls and woman about what a female body should look like. Funny how the “ideal” body is a size 0 when the average woman is actually between a size 8-12. We are focusing on trying to fit ourselves into a mold that is so rare. As grown woman who young girls look up to, it is our duty to show girls that they don’t need to fit the mold but that they need to love themselves and be strong individuals regardless of size, height or width.
So as the new school year approaches and I begin my third year of teaching, I find myself in a healthier state than the past two years. I vow to be that strong role model for my students, I vow to encourage them, be there for them and love them for their unique little selves. Here is to never feel as if I am going to faint in the hallway, to have the energy to get through the day, to be able to give my undivided attention and to be able to have more than just an apple a day.