Hey wj,

Just to let you know I’ve been admitted to hospital again. Just an update. Thanks again for your advice. It helped more than you know. : )

Love,
N

Dear N,

Thank you for sharing… Do get well soon and remember to stay focused and determined on recovering well. Yes, I hope to see you soon someday, too- out of hospital, completely free and Well : )

Love,
Wai Jia

Everything you do counts. It will either count for life or it will count for death.

Remember, you do the choosing.
God working in you, as you allow Him entrance, makes it happen in your life.

– Lord, I Want to be Whole, by Stormie Omatian

I made a mistake.

It wasn’t an eighty-thousand dollar wedding banquet I had attended that night. I realised it had cost more.

“Relax, woman. It’s not like you should judge anyone, you know. Besides, if they can afford it, why not?”

Yes, Wai Jia. None of us have the right to judge anybody else and maybe they really do have A LOT of money and do A LOT of charity. Relax woman, R-E-L-A-X.

BUT EIGHTY-THOUSAND DOLLARS? That’s almost as much money Kitesong raised for the children at the orphanage in Nepal. Here’s when I start to hyperventilate- someone pass me a bag, please.

I took Grandpa Zhou to the clinic on Tuesday evening. He was reluctant at first, and asked me, “Aren’t you afraid to be seen with me? People will kan suey (look down on) you. Anyway, my feet are less swollen now, see? ” I had to tell him I had cancelled a prior appointment for his sake before he packed up his harmonica and money box to leave with me.

“Okay, let’s go, ” he says.

He walks with a strange gait, limping because of congenital disabilities in his feet.

The doctor’s verdict? His feet are swollen because of malnutrution, a lack of protein in his diet. It was a long wait at the clinic. While waiting, we had a long talk about nutrition and finding ways to include protein in his meals- not an easy task considering he doesn’t spend more than 2 dollars on himself per day on meals.

Zhou yeye (Grandpa Zhou), you see, if you save so much money at the expense of your health, you’ll spend even more money in future on medical fees!” I try and convince him in mandarin.

He nods, and then says, “But you know, meat is very expensive. Once a week, I buy fish soup for myself. But it’s SO EXPENSIVE, you know!” His eyes widen with emotion, “It’s THREE-FIFTY! Three dollars and fifty cents! Wah, hen gui hen gui (very costly, very costly).”

Three dollars and fifty cents. What did that mean to me.

“Once a week? Then what do you eat on other days when I don’t buy food for you?”

“Oh, this other lady, a lady who attends church also, buys me white bread and coffee. I eat half a loaf per meal. Then at midnight when I reach home, I cook mifen (rice noodles).”

Mifen with what?” I ask suspiciously.

“Er nothing la. Sometimes a bit of vegetables… or expired canned food I get from passers-by.”

At this point, I feel like burying my head in my hands.

I find a mandarin health brochure and tell him about the food pyramid, tell him the importance of including protein in his diet, and explain to him why his feet swell up. The doctor is a very kind lady, and she listens to Grandpa Zhou very, very patiently, even gives me her number so I may look her up at the hospital should the problem recur. She tells me to buy him foot cream for his dry, chapped feet and multi-vitamins.

Two and a half hours later, we leave the clinic. ” Wo men jin tian chi hao de!” I tell him Grandpa Zhou enthusiastically- We’ll have ourselves a good meal today!

Grandpa Zhou laughs. When I didn’t know him, I used to hate him for being so haughty, hate him for making it seem so difficult for me to love him. Now, he laughs all the time. Laughs, because we’re all human. Laughs, because if you look deep enough, everyone has a soft and loveable side when they know that they, too, are loved, and not looked down upon.

I carry his dirty, smelly bag out of the clinic. He tells me he picked it up from a dump. He looks at me, blinks, and asks, ” Don’t those people at the clinic find it weird that you’re with someone like me? What did you tell them I was… a beggar you met? What would your parents think?”

I frown, sigh and say, “Zhou yeye, what you just said grieves me a lot ya… I’ve told you many times before not to call yourself a beggar. Why would I call you that? I told them, you are a friend I met at the train station who is a busker, a PERFORMER. I told them you play the harmonica. And… my dad knows I’m taking you to the doctor’s.”

He blinks again, and nods. “Ya, I have a license you know. Not everyone can get a license from the Arts Council- you need to have some talent.”

“Yes indeed.” We both laugh. We walk across the road to the coffeeshop. “And did you hear what the doctor said, no beer okay? Not a drop.”

“Ya, but I have 6 cans left at home. I’ll finish that up and I promise not to buy anymore.”

“No, Grandpa Zhou, NO BEER AT ALL. You keep saying you don’t want to spend money. I’d rather you save money on beer and add a dollar to your meal each day. Buy a meal with protein which costs at least 3 dollars, okay? If not, give me the beer and I’ll pay you for it.”

He quickly retorts, “Nononono, I can’t let you do that. You’ve done so much for me already. I can’t let you do that!”

“But my heart will break if you keep them for yourself. Wo de xin hui sui.” I add on for dramatic effect- “After all Ive done for you!”

“Okay, okay. I’ll give them away. What a waste, what a waste… But for your sake, I’ll throw them away.”

It takes a lot of effort for me to convince him that bad things need to be destroyed, not given away.

Dinner is a good meal at a nearby coffeeshop. He has not had fried rice for ages and eats the equivalent of what a normal person would eat for two meals.

We go back to the train station. I am about to part with Grandpa Zhou when I remember what we learnt in medical school- that we should always ask our patients to repeat what we’ve told them. I ask him to repeat to me the 2 things he must do this week. One, to throw the beer away, and two, to include some fish, chicken or pork in his meals daily.

“Throw the beer away,” I emphasize this point. “It’s not good to give such things away. It’ll only encourage somebody else to indulge in bad habits.”

I think about the brand-new micro-skirts I had thrown down the chute.

He shakes his head, but finally says, ” All right, all right, you’ve been very good to me… you even call me Grandpa… Okay okay, for your sake, I’ll give them away, not buy beer anymore and save that money to buy better meals for myself- just like you said. But… But… I won’t throw them away… It’s too much of a waste! “

I sigh. We had talked about this at the clinic and he had agreed to throw them away. Now, it was “too much of a waste”.

I give in, my body and mind tired from the cold I have caught.

What I would do to buy the 6 cans of beer from him and throw them down the chute, instead of giving someone else an early ticket to the grave, with free coupons to exhange for a hardened liver sickened by cheap alcohol.

“Sigh… Okay, Grandpa Zhou. Save your $5 on beer every week and add a dollar a day to your meals. Buy a meal that costs at least 3 dollars from now on. THREE DOLLARS. “

“Yes… thank you so much…”

My heart is heavy with emotion. My head throbs from the cold I’ve caught that morning. I walk home in the rain.

An old man who has painful, severely cracked and swollen feet because he can’t bear to spend more than 2 dollars on himself a day on meals. An EIGHTY-THOUSAND DOLLAR wedding.

I think about the pretty chandeliers, the middle-aged women suffocating in their corsets, and the shark’s fin, ginseng chicken and Chinese dessert which no one finished that night. I think about that, and the look in Grandpa Zhou’s eyes when he holds the styrofoam box of food I deliver to him, the way he holds it in his hands like… like gold.

The suffocating surfeit.

“Dad, do you think it’s justified if I had an eighty-thousand dollar wedding?”

Dad pauses, then says, ” If you can afford it, why not? I won’t be paying for it though.” He laughs cheekily. “But for you… You want to be a missionary doctor right? So… no, it’s not justified. Be consistent. This is the choice you’ve made, and people will watch your life, see where their donations go to. No, an eighty-thousand dollar wedding wouldnt be justified.”

I am walking home in the rain, cold from the chill and the cold I’ve caught, and hot from the thoughts that pelt down inside my head. What have I done? How long can I sustain this? Can I afford taking care of a stranger I walked by at a train station? Why don’t people understand that some things are not considered wasteful to throw away? That it’s a real waste to throw away plates and plates of unfinished ginseng chicken, vegetables and shark’s fin at an eighty-thousand dollar wedding… … but not 6 cans of beer.

As the rain falls upon me, everything seems to come together, and I understand why I was disturbed, why I am -still- disturbed. An eighty-thousand dollar wedding is fine, perfectly fine- perhaps even in the eyes of Grandpa Zhou, because after all, the couple can afford it, and they’re businesspeople, not missionary doctors… Right?

An eighty-thousand dollar wedding is fine. Just, not for me.

Letters of Hope
are a series of letters I have chosen to write in response to questions I receive regarding recovering from Anorexia.
I am not a professional, and I don’t have all the answers, but I hope that sharing my experience and thoughts may help answer some of your questions, and encourage some of you towards Recovery. It is my hope that this sharing may also help some of you better understand and support someone suffering from Anorexia, now or in the future.


hey…

I dont know if you remember me, but this is N 🙂 We met a couple of times at the support group… … I just returned from my trip to X … but I think I’m like relapsing. Reading your blog really inspires me to wanna recover. I was just wondering, if you could like tell me how life is on the other side (after recovery) and how you managed to. I really do want to recover.

thanks 😀

love, N.

*Names and places have been changed.

Dear N,

Of course I remember you and I’ve been wondering how you’ve been too. Thank you for writing- I’m really glad to hear from you! : )

On Relapse

I haven’t attended the support group many times myself because by the time I found it, I was almost all right. But remember once we talked about how it is possible to recover, and to recover fully? Believe in that with all your heart. I had a Relapse before too, a few times over the past year actually. I’ve had to learn that it’s perfectly normal, and nothing to beat yourself up about. The road to recovery is a winding one, and relapsing doesn’t mean getting lost- it means accidentally taking two steps back because of tripping over a stone of some sort. Sometimes, the new perspective helps you learn more about yourself, and you can move forward faster, with more strength to your stride.

Relapse doesn’t mean anything but a learning experience. We can choose to accept it and use it to learn more about ourselves, or stay discouraged and give up. You’re really brave and determined to decide for yourself to want to move forward, and you’re on the right track : )


Finding your stones

Write them down

One thing I can’t do to help is to give a sure-fire formula on how to recover, because each of us are so different. This is what makes Anorexia so difficult to treat- Each of us have such different Stories. But I can tell you one thing- that you can recover, by looking out for your own stones.

Stones are things that trip us, things that bring back bad thoughts and self-destructive behaviour. They could be anything, and I had to take time to think about what my stones were. By beautiful chance, I met a British lady, Ll, who is a marathoner, who used to suffer severely from Anorexia, and who is working on becoming a counsellor to help people suffering from this. She taught me to recollect past situations which triggered off destructive thoughts and behavior and I had to take a lot of time to write down what those things were, find out what my stones were.

They could be anything. Every one has different stones. After a lot of thinking and recollection of past experiences, I learnt that some of my triggers were lonliness, events which triggered insecurity, stress from work, eating with people who talk excessively about calories and exercise and weight, and being inundated by a storm of unhealthy societal expectations. These were my stones, things which tripped me up.

Take a baby step- Find out what your stones are. Write them down in one column, and on the second column, write down the things you can do to avoid tripping over them. In other words, look for those stones, and pick them up before they trip you.

My Stones

Insecurity and stress tripped me up real bad. My worst stone was feeling lonely as I’ve a lot of difficulty articulating my feelings especially when those feelings are anger or frustration- I’ve been brought up in an environment where those feelings are labelled to be “bad”. Realising what my stones were helped me to think of ways to cope whenever I bumped into them.

For me, picking up stones meant making sure I made an effort to eat with normal, healthy people who made me feel at ease; it meant journalling my thoughts and talking to God whenever I had strong feelings about something, instead of running away from problems by literally going for a run; it meant me making a conscious effort to say how I felt; it meant me avoiding trashy fashion magazines featuring anorexic people.

It meant me spending time for myself and with God, and not just being busy trying to please everybody else. It meant me avoiding situations that I knew would trip me up.

It meant taking time to find out what I could do to pick up those stones before they tripped me.

You can too. Find out what your stones are, and where they lie. So the next time you see them, you can pick them up, and walk forward- well.

As you get better, your trip-ups get fewer and further between, and that’s when you know you’re on your way to being completely Well.

Asking WHY

This was the most challenging part for me.

Once you’ve figured out what your stones are, and what you can do to pick them up, here comes the real challenge. I had to find out WHY those stones tripped me in the first place. Why does eating with people who obsess about fashion and weight and exercise trigger a self-restricting response? Why do I feel insecure? Do I need to feel insecure?

This takes a lot of time because it goes so deep, runs so far back. It can be very frustrating and challenging. You may even need some help from someone professional to help you through this. I was already seeing a counsellor then because of my journey with depression, and it dug out many ill beliefs and damages which I had absorbed unconsciously as a child. I learnt so much and gained a lot of self-awareness through this process.

Remember to be faithful in writing down your stones using your two columns, and to ask yourself WHY.

Pressing in

There will be times you feel like throwing in the towel, and times where you feel like bursting out in tears because nobody seems to understand. People around you can say and do things that hamper your recovery, and this can be extremely exasperating, I know.

Hold on to one thing- that no matter what people say or do, no one can take away your decision to get better. No one.

Getting Support

I had a friend who would force me to eat whenever he was with me, and I found it extremely stressful. Many times I felt like bursting into tears, tell him he didn’t understand, or ask him to leave me alone. But he was a good friend, like a big brother, and I wanted to get better. So I explained my illness to him, let him read a book on how to help me and asked him to support me by giving me time and space to recover.

It’s not too much to ask- they want to help, too. If it helps, you can take the iniative to tell your close friends how they can support you in your recovery. Instead of just getting mad, or crying, you can choose to press in, and make your recovery work.

Rationalise

Growing up in a family where members count calories, make fun of larger people and give one another second looks when you take an extra spoonful of rice was difficult for me. Many times I felt like exploding. But instead of getting mad, or crying, I chose to press in, rationalise in my head that they don’t know how to help, rationalise that I can make a choice to nourish my body, rationalise that what they are saying hurts me but I can press in and be determined to eat well, be well.

There are always 2 voices in your head- the healthy one, and the unhealthy one. Whenever you feel like going back to old ways, let the 2 voices thrash it out with each other until the good side wins. Rationalise things in your head. MAKE SURE THE GOOD SIDE WINS.

Desperation

Desperation is a good thing during recovery. It keeps you determined. Be desperate for recovery- write your reasons for doing so down and keep them as reminders.

For a long time, I kept my scale, even during recovery. But this incident broke me down completely, and made me desperate enough to want to be Well, not just partially, mostly but COMPLETELY Well. I was completely set free only after I threw it away.

Be desperate for recovery, and throw it away.

Most of this world does not understand Anorexia. When they don’t, and say or do things which hurt us more than help us, we need to press in. Press in, in desperation, and make our recovery work for us.

My White Place

Church and God helped me a lot. They are the reason why I recovered so quickly.

There is a principle in the bible which helped me a lot- that is, the principle of “dying to yourself so you can live”. It’s really about putting to death our destructive worldly, human desires so that we can live victoriously. I applied it to recovery. Every time I felt the desire to return to the old ways, I would pray, put those thoughts to death, and do the complete opposite- if didn’t feel like eating for example, I would pray, then be determined to finish a meal.

This can be very difficult. But there is something powerful in believing in God with all your heart because He has the power to unchain shackles, transform lives, set captive people free.

I do believe there is a time and place for professional counselling, medication and taking steps to recover. But at the end of the day, I believe all these methods are human constructs- there is something powerful about believing in the power of God that can break down strongholds and set you completely free, in a way even the best self-help book can’t. Not everyone will agree with me on this and that’s all right. This is my personal opinion from my experience.

There was a lot of crying. A lot of crying. But God heals- I know He did for me.

Life on the Other Side

Green Hills and Blue Skies

It is completely different here. Here, I am free.

Anorexia is tiring. It tires you mentally, physically and emotionally. For me, it was also a symptom of depression. Getting Well meant being set free from obsessive thoughts, having a healthier body, and learning how to get in touch with my feelings.

I feel better physically. Being Well means feeling more energetic, having a better memory to study well and looking much, much better. You’ll be surprised, but being well gives you a glow Anorexia will never be able to give you. Being Well is what truly makes you beautiful.

I feel better emotionally and mentally. The process of Getting Well taught me so much, and likewise, you, too, will become stronger, more compassionate and more sensitive to other people through this process.

Life on the other side is victorious, and Free. You finally see how much more there is to life- people to meet, places to go, meaningful things to do. What do you want to be when you grow up? Remember, you can be good at what you do, but only without Anorexia.

On the ground

I’ll be honest with you. There are still things I struggle with, like learning how to say I’m angry. A lot of times I don’t, and it takes me a few hours, or days to admit to both myself and someone else that I’m angry and that it’s a valid feeling. These are things we can continually work on, and which make us better people.

The Person Inside

Recovering is a beautiful process. It helps you to find out who you really are inside.

Anorexia takes the real YOU away. It numbed my feelings, set rigid rules, and took away my freedom. Reovering meant having the courage to unpeel the many layers I had chosen to hide under, unzipping the costume I was wearing because I felt so insecure. Recovering meant being a child again, exploring what foods I actually do like to eat, and to have them without anxiety. Recovering meant being open and honest with myself and finding the person inside.

Who is the real you? Be excited to find out : )

You’ll be completely Well, N. You know, not many people would come this far to seek help regarding Relapse- You’re very brave and determined : )

You’ll be completely Well. Believe in it with all your heart.

God loves you very much dear.

Love,

Wai Jia

So, how far do you go?

On New Year’s Day, Grandpa Zhou asked me something that made me think. “Are you going to buy food for me every Tuesday and Saturday?”

It stunned me. For a moment, I thought he was trying to pin me down, take advantage of me like so many people had warned me before. Then he said, “Tell me a time I can wait for you till before I know you won’t be coming because I’m just afraid sometimes I might have bought food for myself already, then I’ll be too full to accept yours if you do come.”

It made me think. How long do I intend to keep up with this, and how far am I willing to go? We’re going to see the doctor next Tuesday. Then what?

What on earth does it mean to love others deeply, the way God loves us? It is easy to love Strangers as a one-time effort- but for life? For every mile one goes for a Stranger, one should then be willing to go twice the mile for one’s family. Is it possible?

How far do you go? There’s only this much time and energy a mortal person has- how does one divide it and how far is too far?

It was my father’s 58th birthday yesterday. On my way home from the library, I thought of buying a cake. Mum and dad said not to though, as one of Dad’s clients would be delivering a good one this weekend. Yes, okay, forget about cake- Dad’s not really a birthday kind of person anyway… … Maybe I’ll draw him a card. Argh, exam in a few days and I’m short of time… Maybe I’ll buy one… it’s more convenient…

But Dad likes it when I draw him cards… …

And what’s a birthday without cake?

At that moment, my mind cleared- you do what love propels you to do. There is always an excuse, but Love is not convenient. Often, it is inconvenient.

Walking home from the train station, I see Grandpa Zhou huddled at a corner. It’s Thursday, he shouldn’t be here… I stop in my tracks. Aw man, if I stop to talk to him, he’ll expect me to buy him dinner… No, I shall resolve not to buy him dinner tonight. I resolve not to- I can’t be doing this forever, I don’t want him to be over-reliant on me. No, I will not, I will go home and celebrate Dad’s birthday. I can only take care of one old man per night so that’s that. I will say hi to Grandpa Zhou and then I will go home. I will buy him dinner on Saturday. YES.

Love is inconvenient. God never asked much from us, He only asked for us to love people as much as He loved us. How far do we go?

I reach home. And then I leave home again as soon as I reach it. This time, I resolve to buy Grandpa Zhou dinner, and there is a lightness in my heart.

He is surprised to see me. “You’re back! With food…! You really shouldn’t have ya…” I explain I cannot stay to chat this time as I’ll be having dinner with my family soon. But I ask him about the sandalwood oil and few sachets of chamomile tea I had given to him on new year’s day to help him with his insomnia, and chat for a while. I tell him we will go to the clinic on Tuesday night when it’s open.

Ni… ni hen you ai xin. Wo zhu ni xin xiang shi cheng, zhu ni cheng gong…( You… you have a kind heart. I wish you the very best for your future, that you may succeed in all things you do.)”
I don’t know what to say so I just smile. I wonder to myself how far I will go to love this old man, and mine back home, my own father.

“The oil and tea you gave me, it’s very expensive no?”

I chuckle. I wonder about the relativity of price. I don’t think he’s seen Crabtree and Evelyn teabags before.

At home, I surprise my two folks with two mini-cakes I have bought. It is a good, cosy celebration. Dad isn’t usually very expressive but this time, he says to me, “ Thanks for your special effort. I feel really good today.”

Those words mean a lot to me.

Just before he goes upstairs to his room, I give him a card I draw. Opening it, I watch him, grey with age, smiling the smile I only ever see twice a year. “ You drew this!” He is laughing by now at the picture I drew, laughing a laugh that I would not hear had I bought a ready-made card. Going up the stairs he says in an odd sing-song, “I am the happiest man in the world today, haha, Your old man… the happiest man in the world ha… …”

Two old men. Two different distances.

How far do we go? How far.

When I saw the smile on both their faces, all at once, it became clear.

That far.

We go as far as we want to- that far.

dedicated to all her readers and loved ones

Once upon a time, there was a Very Big Dragon named Two Thousand and Six and a very little girl named Anna.

The Very Big Dragon named Two Thousand and Six lived in the Big, Black Sea down below, while little Anna lived faraway on rainbow-coloured clouds in a place far above.

Two Thousand and Six was Very Bad, and Very Big.

Anna was, on the other hand, very small.

One day, Two Thousand and Six captured little Anna!

Two Thousand and Six was a Very Bad Dragon.

It captured little Anna, stole Anna’s very little mouth and hid it in the Big, Black Sea so she could not find it. This made little Anna very sad.

Little Anna set out to find her very little mouth! But the Big, Black Sea was so Very Dangerous and she was consumed by the Big waves.

But one day, Two Thousand and Seven came along.

Two Thousand and Seven was a Very Big Hand. It was even BIGGER than the Very Big, Bad Dragon named Two Thousand and Six.

It was Two Thousand and Seven that rescued little Anna!

Two Thousand and Seven helped little Anna find her mouth, and helped her to help others find it too.

Two Thousand and Seven helped her to draw a rainbow in the sky, and returned little Anna back to her home of rainbow-coloured clouds up above.

Two Thousand and Seven saved little Anna!

“Thank you Two Thousand and Seven!” she cried out.

It was Two Thousand and Seven that saved her life!

“You’re welcome, ” said Two Thousand and Seven. “I have a Very Good friend named Two Thousand and Eight and he will look after you from now on so Big, Bad Dragons won’t come and get you. You’ll be safe up here.”

Little Anna smiled, and returned home, back safely to her rainbow-coloured clouds up above, waiting for a Very Good Two Thousand and Eight to arrive.

The End

To all of you, thank you for walking this journey with her.

She would like to thank all of you who have sent her emails, messages and notes of encouragement, as well as all of you who visit this space.

Thank you for the little things- for reading, for leaving a note on this tagboard, or simply passing on this space to someone else to share her Story. She wants to hug you, even if she hasn’t met you before, because she wants to thank you for sending Two Thousand and Seven to save her.

It’s been a long year, from darkness to light, from a deep, deep valley to a mountain-top, and from blackness to light.

Thank you for being with her.

She would like to send you a hug because she knows so many of you sent secret angels to alert Two Thousand and Seven when she was captured so Two Thousand and Seven could come down and save her.

Special thanks to Jo, Ther, Lif, and TAM for your prayer and friendship when she was captured. She can never thank you enough.

To EK and A, for your love, support and encouragement. You changed her life since Kitesong.

To all the Angels she met in her White Place, for blessing and loving her inside-out.

To her family, for giving her a real Home to go back to.

To her Very Special and Big Hand, for saving her life, and for His Faithfulness.

To all of you, for being such a beautiful audience.

Thank you so much for saving her life.

She hopes that each of you may be blessed with a Very Good Two Thousand and Eight too.

She hopes you enjoyed reading her Full Story.

This is her gift to you.

Thank you.

May God bless your hearts always.

* To read the Full Story of Grandpa Zhou, click here.

I attended a wedding dinner last night at the Shangri-La Hotel. It was a very grand wedding- men were dressed in suits, and the women were clad in sequin-studded gowns, pursing their scarlet lips, trying to breathe under their corsets. They had faces caked with make-up. It was a very grand occasion and the golden chandeliers gave an air of added sophistication to the entire event. It was a very grand event.

I couldn’t sleep last night.

This evening, after dinner with my Complete family, I asked my father if I could go and visit Grandpa Zhou. “He seems all right, you know, ” Dad said, ” I saw him the other day at the train station too- you dont have to buy him dinner every week. You can’t save the world, you know, Jia. There’re too many of them.”

My parents have a heart of gold. They really do- but I sensed it was out of concern that I was being taken advantage of that Dad voiced his concern.

I explained that I had learnt Grandpa Zhou had been born with a disability on his right arm and both feet, and that recently, his feet had swelled up very badly. I had called my friend, a doctor, the day before and she had told me swollen feet can mean a few things- heart problems, kidney problems, gout or malnutrition.

Malnutrition. That must be it, I thought.

Dad frowned. ” I see… I didn’t know that. Sure, go. And make sure you tell him to see your doctor-friend too.”

So I went.

Zhou yeye, nin hao! (Hello Grandpa Zhou!)” I chirp. I squat down beside him. I love sitting next to him on those dirty steps.

He beams at me. I love to watch him when he opens the styrofoam box of food delivered to him. There is always a look of gratitude washed over his eyes. He holds the precious box, heavy with an extra portion of rice with both his hands, lists everything he sees in that box in great detail, and tells me a little about each dish. “This vegetable, ” he says, ” this is bai cai. Haha, bo cai is very nice too.”

“Oh dear,” I say in mock sorrow, “I didn’t get your favorite vegetable!”

He shakes his head. ” Ni mai de, wo dou xi huan… Yin wei… ni shi zhen xin mai gei wo de. Ni kan de qi wo. Ni mei you dang wo shi qi gai.” ( I like whatever you buy… because you bought it for me with a sincere heart… You didn’t look down on me, you dont treat me like a beggar.)

Again, I thought about the many times I had, in my heart, considered him a well man trying to cheat passers-by of their spare change.

People walk by us and look at us.

“Grandpa Zhou,” I ask very carefully, “Remember the last time you told me to tell you about your swollen feet? I asked my doctor-friend, and she says it could be due to a few reasons but we won’t know till a proper doctor has a look at it. Can I take you to a doctor?”

“That would need money right?”

“No, you’ll be seeing my doctor-friend. I’ve spoken to her. Free-of-charge.”

“Really?”

I tell him about HealthServe, a clinic along Geylang that serves the marginalised- construction workers, prostitutes and those who cannot afford basic healthcare.

He tucks into his dinner and we talk. I ask him about his daily meals and routine, and he asks me two questions that chill my heart.

” Hm…. Is it okay to eat cold food? Like say, if I bought food like this and left it aside? And oh yes, expired canned food is okay right? If I boil expired sausages in hot water for a rreeaally long time, it’s okay right?”

“No it’s not okay and it’s not all right, Grandpa Zhou. It’s always better to eat warm food, and canned food should not be expired. And no cup noodles. No cup noodles, okay?”

We talk some more, and he tells me about his past when he used to work at the cinema.

Wai Jia!” I hear a voice calling me from behind. I turn around, to see a familiar face, a junior from the medical faculty. She looks at me from the top of the flight of steps while I remain squatted next to Grandpa Zhou. “I thought I recognised your hair from behind. What are you doing here? Doing CIP (Community Involvement Project)?”

There is an awkward moment. I laugh, then I smile the smile I always smile when I dont know what to say. “No, I live here. Good to see you.” I smile some more. She takes some time to understand.

Grandpa Zhou finishes his meal. This time, I didn’t buy him beancurd because I’m not sure if he has gout. People with gout should avoid beancurd and beans.

“Wah, fish and egg today, thank you so much. You know, I don’t understand one thing. One thing, I will never be able to understand…. The people here at this train station- they are so lovely. I’ve met so many kind souls… I don’t understand… Why do you people do this for me? I don’t understand…”

“Because God loves us so much I want to share the love that I’ve received with you. Is that okay?” I smile.

He nods.

We agree to see the doctor. “They’re open only on Saturdays afternoons and Tuesday nights. Next Saturday afternoon or following Tuesday then. Closed on New Year’s day. We’ll go together.”

You can’t save the world and you can’t help everybody. Many people had told me that before and the words rang in my ear loud and clear. How they stung.

Yes, we can’t save the world, but in the first place, that is not our responsibility. Our responsibility is to love, one person a time, from our families first, inside and out. If we all helped one person, on top of loving our families, perhaps everybody would receive the love they needed in different places. More people would be less broken. More people would be loved in the right places, in the right ways.

And then I realised why I could not sleep the previous night. The wedding made me think of many things. I remember asking the missionary doctor while I was in China, ” Do you ever feel oppressed by the lifestyle here in China? Restricted by the lack of material comfort? I mean, life here is so… simple.”

The missionary doctor had looked at me, beamed brightly and replied, “Back home in Singapore, don’t you feel oppressed too? ” He grinned, ” By the opulence?” I thought of the many garish-looking, sequin studded gowns I saw last night.

I also remembered another missionary I had met in China, a lady in her seventies serving people with leprosy since 1960. Because of her dedication to the poor, she had turned down two proposals. Two.

So that was what I was disturbed by. The wedding banquet made me think about many things, about whether I would grow to like fancy cars and big houses and extravagant eighty-thousand dollar weddings someday. If I would have mine at the Shangri-La myself. If I could bear to serve the poor and share with them photos of my eighty-thousand dollar wedding, and my designer wedding gown.

Or if I would have a proper, simple but beautiful one, and have a table inviting people like Grandpa Zhou to it.

Or if I would have one at all.

I couldn’t sleep last night. And now I know why. I was just, wondering.

That’s all.

But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind…
– Luke 14: 13

Grandpa Zhou, have you had dinner?

I have chosen to write this because of what some of you have been sharing with me over the past few months. Some of you have been updating me on your progress, asking me questions, and sharing with me bits and pieces of your own Stories. It’s been very difficult to put my answer in an email to different people, or try and squeeze what I would go on to say in half an hour in a text-message space, so I’ve decided to write this letter to all of you whom I’ve met at the support group.

It’s been a joy knowing you all, and I thank God for each and every one of your lives. It’s a long one, so hold on tight.

My Ring

Many people ask me why I wear a ring on the fourth finger of my left hand. To most of them, I never share my answer. They think it’s because I’m attached and I let them think what they want. Today, I will share it with you.

I have heard people tell me of their recovery from depression and other challenges, because of “someone who loved me when I felt no one ever could.” I want to make it very clear that I do not believe in that. This, however, is my personal opinion and I don’t impose it on anyone.

I believe God sends us many angels to help us in our recovery, but not one person can be the reason for our recovery. Some people tell me it was a newfound boyfriend or girlfriend who made them feel like they were worth being loved, and my response to that is that for true recovery to take place, you must recover for yourself and God mostly. Neither your mother, nor your boyfriend, nor the support group, nor your counselor, nor myself even, should be the main reason for your recovery. What if your boyfriend leaves? What if he, too, faces troubles and becomes depressed-Are we all not human, susceptible to the lust of the eye and the temptations and stresses of this world?

People can inspire you, they can motivate, love, support you, open your eyes- but ultimately, you must want to recover because you want to and because you believe God loves you enough.

I wear a ring, with God’s name engraved inside of it, on the fourth finger of my left hand because it is my commitment to God with regards to my calling to be a missionary doctor, and to live my life well. And it is a reminder to me of the great love He has for us. We are like God’s bride. My ring also tells me that a relationship can only be beautiful when 2 whole people come together, not 2 halves.

That is why I wear my ring every day, all the time. And why I can’t explain why I wear it to most people I meet.


Doing what you do not wish to do

The Choices we make

We’ve talked about this before. Anorexia, for many, is about controlling the only thing you can when everything in life seems to be going out of control. It spirals into a perverse form of extreme discipline- I can’t eat this, can’t do that, have to burn these number of calories in this amount of time and the list never ends. This is discipline of the body. Since we are all so caught up with this grand notion of discipline, I want to share a higher form of discipline with all of you.

Its called the discipline of the mind and spirit. Discipline is, very often, a matter of doing what your natural impulse refuses to do. Recovery began when I started to exercise this higher discipline to replace the lowly, self-destructive discipline of the body. This higher discipline is about being positive, being alive, and being victorious. It is about doing what Anorexia refuses to do.

I ate when I knew I had to, even when Anorexia didn’t want to, even when I wasn’t hungry- because we all know that at some point, many of our stomachs shrink so much that even just a small meal fills us up so quickly. Even now, perhaps many of us find it very difficult to consume a normal-sized meal at one sitting. But at least, I make sure I eat enough throughout the day, even when I don’t feel hungry- because my hunger centre has been thrown off. I threw away my micro-skirts, even my favorite ones, the whole stack of them, because they represented insecurity, neediness and succumbing to our cultural idols of artificial perfection. I force myself to talk, write, express my feelings in times of distress even though my natural impulse is to go for a run. I have disallowed myself to participate in any form of long-distance marathon training until I know that my body and mind are fully well.

I make sure I eat with people when I lose my appetite because it lifts my spirits and helps me to eat better. I hardly watch television, and I don’t read trashy magazines even though the artist in me loves fashion- because it doesn’t help, it just doesn’t help. Can you look at me in the face and tell me reading Cleo helps you in recovering? People read trashy fashion magazines because it gives them a temporary delight of luxuriating in someone else’s fantasies. Maybe one day you’ll be able to read stacks and stacks of these magazines and be perfectly fine with it, but right now, is that the best choice to make for yourself? What you feed your mind with is essential to recovering. You can make the choice not to become a victim of superficial cultural ideals.

What is beautiful is what the eye cannot see.

You can choose to do what you do not want to do. You can choose to seek professional help even though you may need to overcome an initial barrier of feeling shy.

You always have a choice to do what you do not wish to do so that you are one step closer to getting well. You always have a choice, remember that.

You are not a number
We all know our blood-attachment to the weighing scale. When I was very, very ill, it was everything to me. Even during recovery, it was something to fall back on on bad days. Yet, against all obsession, I threw it away. I didn’t change its location, put it in another place so I wouldn’t see it, or tell my family to keep it from me. I did what I didn’t want to do but needed to be done. I THREW IT AWAY. DOWN THE CHUTE. There are many things in life worth throwing away. Your life is not one of them.

You are not a number. God made you a human being deserving of love, happiness and freedom.

Many of you tell me about the perverse feeling of delight when you lose extra weight, because it feels empowering and gives you a sense of control, discipline. I understand, I really do. But consider this- that that kind of discipline wastes, destroys and mocks, while a different kind of discipline, that of doing what you do not wish to do- for your own good, is a more beautiful, higher form of discipline, one that fulfills, builds, and sets free.

Remember, recovery is being strong enough to do what you do not wish to do.

Braveheart

You are very brave to have taken the first step to seek help, talk about your problem. You are very, very brave because so many choose to sleep over it in denial. But it doesn’t stop here. There is a difference between genuinely wanting to get better and taking action, and simply being content to wallow in the status quo because you’ve found a place to ventilate and feel comfortable among fellow people who suffer in the same place you do. There is a difference between true courage, and self-indulgence trying to pass as honesty, admitting your foibles not to improve but only to gain sympathy and consent.

That is no longer courage. It is called, at best, a more sophisticated form of cowardice.

So be strong, do what you do not wish to do in order to get better- that is making progress, that is True courage.

That good.

So many of you are very, very bright. I’m not surprised, because people susceptible to Anorexia are often perfectionists in the first place. Many of you tell me how devastated you are by your academic dip in studies, and some of you have had to stop schooling for a while.

Last year, in spite of saving a lot of travel time by staying at the hostel, I didn’t do so well in my first year of medical school myself. I know how it feels. I couldn’t concentrate, couldn’t remember anything I had studied. This year, I decided to stay at home, decided to recover. This year meant having to spend at least 2 hours a day traveling to and from university, while studying for twice as many subjects as my first year of school, and choosing to spend twice as much time at church than I ever did before.

But this is also the term I have scored twice as well. Do you not miss being above average again? Not because of some deep-seated insecurity driving you to perform, but doing well, simply because you are well.

I can finally eat with my family, and go out for meals with friends, attend social functions without feeling paranoid or anxious. I can finally –think- clearly and lucidly. My mind is freed from obsessing, obsessing, obsessing… I am no longer edgy all the time. My hair doesn’t fall out anymore. I can breathe, live, create, simply Be.

Yes, life after Anorexia can be –that good-. And it most certainly is Possible.

On Winning

You can’t win overnight, but you can win small battles every day, all the time.

You win when you eat well, one meal at a time. You win when you decide today is the day you will try and recover for yourself, and for God. You win when you lose and tell yourself you’ll try again, and again, and again. You win when you cry because it’s so hard but you press on anyway. You win when you forgive yourself for backsliding but never lose hope. You win when you decide to throw your scale away. You win when you decide you want to attend church regularly and thank God for your life, even when you don’t feel like it.

You win when you do what you do not wish to do, because you want to get better. You win when you believe that God loves you. You can win every day.

Keep winning small battles, and you’ll Win big-time eventually.

I keep receiving similar messages about self-loathing. Yes, we know- it’s not about the food or vanity, but it’s about what’s inside. I want you all to read this. And then write down ten things you are grateful to God for, about your life, talents and body. Ten things. Don’t just think about it- write it down.


On God

A lot of you ask me about God. And why He is so important to me, how He played such a big role in my life and recovery. There is one thing you have to sort out- that God didn’t give you an eating disorder. Life did, and through all things, God represents that hope for us to transform any form of suffering into strength, resilience and beauty.

I don’t want to over-generalise or over-simplify by saying that God is a one-time sugar-injection, and overnight rainbow rush, an instant cure-all. But all I can say is that believing in, learning about, serving and trusting in God over time is the reason I recovered so quickly. God and church are the reason I am who I am today.

Do you not know we are God’s bride, and that His love for us is “strong as death… unyielding as the grave”, which “burns like blazing fire” (Song of Solomon 8:6-7)? Is that not the kind of love we all long for, that deep, awesome love that is almost ferocious? Does it not terrify you one bit that for all our imperfections, Someone loves us that much, that terrifyingly? I know it terrifies me. It is why I wear my ring every day, all the time.

Believing in God means believing you are worthy of love; believing in God means trusting Him enough to believe that you are beautiful, and will be even more so when you start eating normally, eating well because He made you with all the love in the world- He won’t shortchange you by turning you into a fat-mound because you decided to eat well, be well (So many of you tell me this is your greatest fear!); believing in God means letting go, letting it go and just living, trusting and exulting in life.


On the Road

So many of you thank me. You thank me for being God’s angel to you.

But I just want to tell you that you too, have taught me much. You have been of great encouragement to me in many ways. It’s been my joy knowing you. And you, too, can become God’s angel to someone else in time to come, if only you will believe in it.

It’s a journey. It’s a real journey, one that winds this way and that, and still, I am walking it. We walk everyday- it is a long road, but it is always worth it.

Life after recovery really is -that good-.

Remember, God loves you. He loves you so very, very much. For every valley we go through, a mountain-top experience awaits. It may be a long journey, but it is worthwhile. A beautiful place awaits.

I am praying for each and every one of you. Be well for yourself and for God, no one else.

Be strong, and do what you do not wish to do, because you’ll be one step closer to that beautiful place.

You are very precious indeed.

Go and be Well.

God bless your hearts.

Love,
Wai Jia

I nearly forgot.

“I’m only at this train station on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Other days, I’m at Yishun train station,” Grandpa Zhou had told me the last time.

And there he was on Christmas day by the dirty steps, playing a broken tune on his harmonica.

Zhou yeye (Grandpa Zhou)!” I called out, before sitting down next to him. He broke into a smile, the kind I never saw when my heart was angry with pettiness at his seeming arrogance previously.

I squatted down to take his order. “Christmas dinner on me,” I joked.

He replied gently, shaking his head, “Anything will do. But 2-dollar meal only, okay? Extra rice will do. I love to eat rice. Two dollars okay? Fish all that, I like, but too expensive.”

I returned with dinner and wanted to leave. Having spent a lot of time this holiday being overseas on a mission trip in China, celebrating Christmas with family, spending time at church… I was very tired, and the Practical side of me wanted to go back and sort out a little work. A major exam in less than two weeks suddenly loomed into view. So much work, so little time.

And then I remembered what Christmas meant. It meant God loving us so much that all He asked was for us to love others as deeply as He loved us. It is something you and I can do, very simply, to share the joy of love with whoever we meet, wherever we are. It was all God asked for on Christmas Day a long, long time ago.

Sometimes, stuck in a dilemma, a voice in my head whispers, “What would you do if that person were Mister God himself?”

I looked at Grandpa Zhou sitting by the steps, his harmonica by his side- If he were God, I would most certainly want to sit with him, I thought. Buy him a meal, chat, and ask for the annihilation of Crocs from the face of the earth.

So I sat down. I have never seen such a small, old person eat so much for a meal. There was a thick slice of fish the size of a large palm, a huge cube of tofu, vegetables and a double serving of white rice. This time, I ordered more food than the last time, and just like the last time, he finished everything.

“ You call me Grandpa Zhou ya? Please call me that from now on… Don’t call me ‘Uncle’ anymore, is that okay? ‘Grandpa Zhou’… it makes me feel so good to hear that. You know, people look down on us… People look down on us, how many people will stop to talk with us? I have a license to busk, but people still see us as beggars. Don’t leave yet okay? I have some questions for you after dinner.”

I looked at him as he tucked into his warm meal. Not too long ago, I was one of those people, angry with pettiness at him for seeming to be a prideful, lowly thorn.

“You know, how many people will sit down and talk to us like that, buy us a meal? I will never buy this for myself… Fish… I like but so expensive. This morning I ate cup noodles- it’s so cheap. Cheap and filling. My daughter… thirty over years old, she’s never bought me a meal and sat down to talk with me like this… Thank you so much you know.”

“Grandpa Zhou,” I said in mandarin, “You know, we all struggle with different issues in our life. Meeting you has been a great blessing to me, you challenged me to open my eyes to what it means to love my own family more deeply.”

He looked at me, stunned. “Really?”

I nodded. “Looking back, I think I’ve a lot to learn about gratitude and being filial… maybe… maybe this is something your daughter will come to learn in time… Just like how I took a long time to realise I took a lot of things for granted.”

He eventually finished his meal.

“My first question. Why is my leg like that?” He pointed at his swollen distorted feet, the skin cracked painfully at the sides, “You’re a medical student ya? Can you do some research and tell me why?”

Then, “Second question, what did you do at church yesterday? Singing and dancing right? Must be… Christmas is special for you Jesus-believing people. That, I know, haha! “

I answered his questions faithfully and was about to leave when he said, “One more question, one more. But don’t be angry okay? Don’t be angry okay?”

I nodded.

He paused, then said, “ You have boyfriend?”

I laughed. All these old people always ask the same thing. “No Uncle, I mean, Grandpa Zhou. No.”

“Good,” he said. “ You finish studying first, concentrate in school, graduate and be a good doctor. All this romantic stuff can come later. Girls will always have suitors, but study first, that later. Ya, you’re not angry, are you? ”

I laughed. “No, I’m not,” I said. “I’m sorry, I’ve to go, Grandpa Zhou. I’ve got to spend time with my family tonight… It’s Christmas Day ya. Cant stay too long this time… So sorry.”

“Yup, sure. Oh yes, the last time I told you I couldn’t sleep ya? And you said you would bring me some oils or something like that?”

I had told him about some bottles of essential oil I had bought from Nepal, from the missionary who helps women support themselves by offering them jobs to make essential oils, soaps and candles. “ I’ll bring it for you this Saturday, okay?”

“Okay. Please remember okay? Cannot sleep ya… And beer is bad.”

Grandpa Zhou taught me many things. Loving your family, loving God, and loving people in small, humble ways. He opened my eyes to see that for every mile we are willing to go for Strangers we love, we should be prepared to go twice the distance for family. Twice, because family aren’t Strangers- shouldn’t be, at least.

He taught me many things. That for all the time we have in the world, there can never be too much time spent Stopping for someone who needs love, stopping for someone, family or Stranger, the way we would stop in our tracks if we knew that person were… God.

Christmas is every day, every person, all the time.

I gave him a side hug, and wished him a merry Christmas. As I turned to leave, he called out behind me, “Thank you so much. Call me ‘Grandpa Zhou’, okay? Not ‘Uncle’. It makes me so happy.”

“Bye, Grandpa Zhou. Merry Christmas.”

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me… … I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did unto me.”

– Matthew 25: 34-40