In less than 24 hours, I’ll be moving into my new apartment (shared with a handful of other youth counselors) and preparing for two weeks of training before I dive in to this new job. After many weeks (like, 6) of waiting, I finally got the news that I was official — my fingerprints are back and they’re ready to train me. I am, for better or worse, uprooting myself from the safety and comfort of my family, community, and treatment team and am taking a job in the middle of nowhere counseling young boys who are in trouble with the law.
And when I say “the middle of nowhere,” I’m not kidding. The town where my job is sits on the edge of a national forest and contains only, from what I can gather, a wal-mart, a gas station, and a two-room medical facility. My TO (“time off”) housing is 45 minutes away because that is quite literally the closest apartment complex. So two days a week, I’ll live in relative civilization, while spending the other five in a dorm in the woods.
The whole thing is a gamble, really. A bigger gamble than I realized when I first applied. I applied for a job as an outdoor youth counselor at a co-ed, wilderness therapeutic camp. In the time between my application and the time that I went on Friday, the camp had shut down, begun negotiations with the state, and re-opened as a short-term residential facility for teenaged boys being routed through the juvenile justice system.
So much for daily hikes and weekend camping trips. We’ll live in dorms, spend 6 hours a day in classrooms, and spend an hour or two a day running or playing soccer or basketball. As if I weren’t already terrified about how I’m going to maintain my weight without being constantly in motion, there’s the food.
I drove up Friday morning for my first day of training. I ate “breakfast” on the road, got there, got drug tested, and then settled in for a few hours of CPR/AED and first aid training. As the clock creeped closer and closer to 12:30 (when I was told we’d have lunch), my entire demeanor changed. I was visibly anxiously. I couldn’t stop shaking. What the hell were they going to feed me for lunch?
As it turns out, the food is so much worse than I ever thought. I’m not entirely sure what I was thinking, but I had survived the camp food on the missions trip pretty well, made do with what I could, avoiding red meat and bulking up at meals (like breakfast) where I knew I had more options. I guess I was expecting something of the same. Wrong. Lunch on Friday was a fried food smorgasbord. Fried chicken strips. Jalapeno poppers. Mozzarella sticks. And one very adorable and dainty bowl of salad, which might have served my family of 3, but certainly couldn’t adequately feed the 15 of us that were on the campus.
I survived, doing my best performance eating. There will be plenty of time in the future for them to learn how utterly weird I am about food, I figured, so let’s try to play it cool today. One chicken strip, a couple of mozzarella sticks, and about half the bowl of salad (seriously). I felt horrible. Guilt just seeped through every inch of my body and I immediately began to figure out how I could possibly avoid eating while at camp working [my 5-day, 24 hr/day shifts].
My fears only got worse as I listened to the nurse describe how when it was a co-ed camp, every girl who came gained at least XX pounds. I listened to a new co-worker, who is significantly heavier than I am, describe how she can eat “barely anything” if she wants to maintain her weight. My brain was reeling. Rules were being made up on the fly — fruits and vegetables only. If I eat anything else, I’ll do xyz set of exercise when the boys go to sleep at night. I’ll run 5 miles on days off. I’ll…. etc., etc., etc.
Thankfully, I’m feeling somewhat more rational today, so I’ve come up with a plan. I CAN control what I’m eating on my days off and will eat according to meal plan on those days. I CAN make sure that I eat enough on the days I am working by bringing my own peanut butter packets, granola bars, and supplements. I CAN maintain contact with my dietitian while I’m away, express my fears to her, and come up with a plan that we both feel comfortable with so I don’t gain or lose weight while at the job.
I’m going out on a serious limb here. And however much my eating-disorder-brain might love for me to just go for broke while I’m out there and wind up in residential all over again, it’s just not an option. I’ve worked too hard and too long to get where I am and to get to the point where I have any hope of a “normal” existence.
Starving is not an option.
If you’re into playing the stock market, you might want to invest in Clif Bar. They’re going to be getting a lot of business out of me, I’m sure.