The Problem of Plaster

Darcy in England

Image Credit: Darcy Christoffersen

 

It was my first day in England and I was already bleeding.

I had just endured a 24-hour travel day that consisted of two six-hour flights, a three-hour layover in-between, a two-hour bus ride to York, and all with about four hours of sleep. I was exhausted, hungry, and I was feeling overwhelmed at being outside of the country for the first time.

And now I was bleeding. I am not entirely sure how I’d managed to injure myself after only a few hours in the country, but it had happened—most likely from me getting a papercut or hitting my finger on the edge of a door (that’s a common one). Regardless, I was bleeding and I couldn’t find a Band-Aid.

I walked up to one of the York St. John Global Guide, students at the school whose job was to help international students adjust to their time at York, and asked, “Excuse me, do you have a Band-Aid?”

She gave me a blank stare and replied, “What’s a Band-Aid?”

In my sleep-deprived brain, I stupidly replied with, “You know a Band-Aid. Like that thing that goes on your cut when you bleed to stop the bleeding.”

She and I stared at each other for a moment. Neither one of us entirely sure what the other was thinking. I literally had no idea how to describe a Band-Aid, as I had never tried before. Everyone I had ever talked to knew what it was. I turned to my best friend who was there with me to ask her how she would describe what a Band-Aid was, but before I could, the Global Guide stated, “Oh! I know what you’re talking about. But, uh-I don’t remember what it’s called.”

She then turned to another Global Guide and tried to describe to him what I wanted. He appeared confused and shook his head, so I said, “A Band-Aid?

He also stared at me, as if trying to figure out the answer from my blank stare. After our stare-down, he shrugged his shoulders and turned to another Global Guide. This time though, she knew what I was talking about.

When I said that I was looking for a Band-Aid, she said, “Oh a Plaster?”

Plaster.

What a freaking weird name to me. When I think of “plaster,” I think of an art supply, or something that is used in a DIY house project. Not something that you used to stop the blood rushing from my finger.

But that was just the beginning.

Throughout my time studying abroad, I would see many more differences between America and the United Kingdom.

For example, there was an event hosted by the Global Guides that celebrated different countries around the world. The American table hosted the game: British English vs. American English. From “trash can” to “rubbish bin,” “fries” to “chips,” or “cotton candy” to “candy floss,” it was kind of amazing to see how, although both countries speak English, some simple words could differ so much. I remember there were many times that I asked for “fries,” and the British person taking my order would automatically reply, “chips?”

I distinctly remember another time where I struggled with the differences in language. I was at a restaurant in my early days at York, and I was unsuccessfully looking, like my life depended on it, for the bathroom. I was embarrassed to ask anyone where the bathroom was (because I didn’t want to seem like a dumb American), and I figured that that it would be easy to find. I was wrong. I spent a solid five minutes walking around the restaurant, searching for the stupid bathroom.

Eventually, my need to go pee outweighed the embarrassment I felt about searching so hard to find the stupid bathroom, so I asked the waitress. She stared at me, almost like I was a puzzle that she didn’t understand, and then pointed at a door that said “WC.” At that point, I didn’t care what the words meant, I just wanted to go to the bathroom. But, I would later find out that the WC meant “Water Closet,” aka the bathroom. This proved to be another of many instances, in which I struggled to overcome the language differences between British English and American English.

And it all began with me asking for a Band-Aid and them giving me a plaster.

 

By: Darcy Christoffersen

This Problem to Acknowledge

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What is to be done about loneliness? It’s hard to say – there are ways to try to cure it, but in the end there’s no way to forcefully tell the universe, “You will give me the someone I need.” And I’m not just talking about that “perfect” significant other society is always telling us to be on the hunt for. I’m talking about the kind of person who you can connect with beyond all those surface-level friendships that are so much easier to come by.

My freshman year, sadness manifested itself in me rather unexpectedly. I left Southern California for Oregon well prepared to be homesick, but instead found myself longing for — not necessarily those I knew back home, though I did miss my family and best friend — but for someone I could know here. Deeply know, better than the group of friends I made from the start of school. There was a time when I would cry every weekend in private, often not sure why such emotions were so eager to flood. As a generally well-composed individual, I treasured those moments when I could feel emotion in its heavily saturated form. In a way, those moments felt more available to me than anyone nearby. And sadness like that can be addictive.

With the arrival of spring semester came a change in friends for me. This time, I sensed I played an important role in the dynamics of my friend group. But even so, I feared the fast-approaching future when all of us would graduate and go our own ways. I could have a wonderful career and place to live by then, but without someone to enjoy it with, I feared it’d feel meaningless.

In response to the stress of school and societal standards and what the future held for me, I turned to a coping mechanism not uncommon for college-age women like me. I took advantage of my busy schedule and used it to help develop what would end up taking months for me to acknowledge as an eating disorder. On my return home, my mom noticed my habits of extreme calorie restriction and spoke her concerns. Still, I pressed myself further. I couldn’t be expected to rely on my mother’s opinion the rest of my life, now could I? Or so my line of thinking went.

Summer break, things did not improve. Though I was back home in close proximity of my best friend and family, all were so busy with work and life that I found myself alone more often than ever. With my job unable to give me many shifts, and being confined to the house by the oppressive SoCal heat without a car, boredom and loneliness combined forces. In the need to put my mind to something, I began viewing myself as a project, depriving myself further, documenting the results. I knew it was foolish but I relished the effectiveness. So much time in the day I wasted recording my weight, my looks, what I ate, how I felt. I wanted those records, knowing I wouldn’t be that thin forever. They were capturing who I was at my prime, I thought. Pictures and journal entries I could look back on years later — in pride, pity, or scorn of myself, I wasn’t sure. But it felt precious, being empty and hungry. I could stroke my stomach and tell myself it was acceptable to lie there and not do anything, because so long as I wasn’t eating, my body was burning through calories and I was on my way to getting lighter. I was achieving something. Except there were plenty of times I felt otherwise. I often default to questioning my negative emotions and excusing my hardships as nothing compared to others’. So in seeing all the hollowed-out girls showcased in media, nearly praised by society for suffering from severe anorexia nervosa, my immediate thoughts were that my own experience was illegitimate. My efforts were laughable in comparison. Better try harder.

It’s amazing how fixated we humans can become. My mind was so content mulling over the same few things day in and day out. Food, calories, what it meant to be anorexic. How I qualified, how I didn’t. What was my end goal in all this? The answer is mixed. On one hand, I didn’t want to look like a walking skeleton, but at the same time I liked to see how far I could suck myself in, how prominent my ribs could be. I ranged from wanting to feel attractive and resilient, to small and delicate, to nonexistent. Putting myself through these trials made me feel like a character from a story, whose inner conflict served to make me interesting and worth reading into.

The most contact I had with anyone during those times was through text, with one of my college friends who I kept thinking of things to say to. Luckily for me, he was just about as bored and lonely as I was, so we were able to support each other despite the state boundary between us. I agree technology has in many ways impaired our willingness as human beings to connect on a personal level, but in this case it served a purpose dearly important to me.

As summer break finally drew to an end and I set my thoughts on a second year of college, I knew I had no intentions of stopping on my self-destructive path so soon. The setup of my sophomore living situation was prime for neglecting my needs, and I planned to exploit that. Throughout this process, my reflection on the actions I was taking varied from proud, to sheepish, to denial. In one of my softer moments, I told my good friend over text about my problem, just so I knew I wouldn’t be alone with this secret at school. I often consider where I’d be now if it weren’t for this good friend I’m so fortunate to have met. Ever supportive of me, he took the news well and did the most I could’ve expected him to. I think we both knew it was in my power alone to turn things around, so he never guilted me, or badgered me, but remained my faithful friend as I asked. Nearly any time of day, I could message him something and see the little icon drop down to indicate he saw it, followed soon after by the animated ellipsis telling me he was typing out a response. He was always happy to make conversation, be it light or heavy, and whenever he was preoccupied with work or something else, he made sure to check in on me as soon as he could. So even without him there in person, I didn’t feel like I was completely alone.

The first couple of months into my second fall semester, I treated myself as poorly as I’d expected I would. Again, I knew it was foolish but it’d become an obsession. When I finally determined I’d seek help by the end of the month, I got far worse up until the time I was to see the doctor. I wanted to make sure to give them something to work with. My entire experience building up to this point was a pendulum swing of “I’m going too far” to “I’m fine, just dramatic.” I wasn’t ready to ask for help until I could fix my beliefs on the fact I had a legitimate problem. It wasn’t enough for me that I’d missed my period five months in a row, or that my mental and physical energy levels were drained. The last time I checked my weight before I left for college, my BMI was still considered normal though I’d lost a considerable amount of weight, and the so-called “logical” part of me couldn’t be satisfied until that data said otherwise.

Finally the day came when I sought out the well-hidden scale in the girl’s locker room like a parched animal to water. Stepping onto the small square platform, I felt tremendous relief as I saw the bar balance at a number lower than I’d hoped. Here it was, something the critical voice inside my head couldn’t argue with, proof backed up by science that I was underweight. That I had gone too far – or, in my mind, just far enough. This was the green light for me to see the doctor, to eat more, to get better. And I was more than ready to start enjoying life to the fullest in that way.

For a month now I’ve been in recovery, though it feels like much longer than that. I have a lot to be thankful for, because getting better hasn’t been as difficult for me as I hear it is for some. The only reason for that I can think of is for the fact I have someone – my good college friend. To those of you wondering, we’re dating now, but that’s beside my point. He’s here as my anchor, as any close friend could be, encouraging me in every respect to do what it takes to be healthy again. We frequently cook meals together and experiment with food, amused at how repulsed our younger selves would have been at the thought of the things we share now. Thanks to him, I feel safe allowing myself the food I need and accepting the changes in my body that result. I didn’t expect a guy my age to be as happy for me as he was when I told him I gained weight. Still, I’m well aware I shouldn’t be reliant on anyone to value and take care of myself. I guess in that regard there’s a lot of growing for me to do, but having started counseling, I’m on a good track for that too.

So what is to be done about loneliness? I wish I could say. There’s still no way to demand the universe give you someone, though it does happen at times (and thank the heavens when it does). One thing I’ll advocate for is looking outside yourself, recognizing people for who they are and what they feel. Asking questions to understand, listening to hear, challenging yourself to delay any audible reply before you’ve truly thought about what the person before you has said. Who’s to say how many of us are hurting in some way, considering those who so carefully hide their pain, or refuse to acknowledge it in the first place. But hopefully in trying to be that close friend to others, we’ll find ourselves fulfilled as well.

And let me just say that solitude does have its merits at times. I like going on nice long walks alone and holing up in my room for a while. It gives me a chance to remove myself from the action and take in the whole picture, to reflect on how I feel about what’s happening and the roles I play. As for the inevitable chapters in my life when I am to be alone for whatever reasons, it’s my hope that I’ll have learned from this experience and won’t take it too hard again. I think we all deserve to be a better friend to ourselves.

It’s Who You’re With

lauren

Image Credit: Lauren Anderson

 

Growing up, I was faced with a number of challenges that affected my mental, physical, and emotional health. Like for many young teenagers, middle school was an experience I wish I could erase from my memory. During this awkward, transitional phase of adolescence, I was constantly searching for where I belonged. By the end of my seventh grade year, I still had not found a group I felt that I fit in with, despite my heavy involvement in art, music, and dance. Little did I know, a fateful trip to find supplies for water bottle rockets in my science class would change my life forever.

I will always remember the moment I ran into my band director in the Astoria Middle School office, after being sent to find construction paper by one of my teachers that year. I had no idea that this casual encounter would end up pointing me down the path that has brought me to where I am today. At that time, music wasn’t a huge part of my life. I had switched into band from choir due to my distaste towards the teacher, and decided to play flute because that is what my friends played. During that encounter, knowing my history with dance, my band director asked me if I would be interested in being a part of the high school marching band’s color guard, which I excitingly said yes to. I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into, but to this day, it was the greatest thing I ever agreed to.

You could feel the magic and energy in the air as we loaded the truck after our final rehearsal. From that point on, it was as if the next three hours flashed before my eyes. Before I could blink, I was on the field playing my final show with the group that shaped my entire life. During the closing of our show, I glanced over to my best friend as our eyes filled with tears, realizing it was actually all over. We exited the field and circled up for the traditional senior speeches. Parents came to hug me as tears streamed down my face. After each of the other seniors had spoken, it was finally my turn. I had been dreaming of and dreading this moment for years, and now it was time for my final words to the group.

“Long live all the magic we made on that field tonight,” I remember saying to the group, quoting a Taylor Swift song. I waited for a smirk from my best friend, acknowledging she had noticed the reference before continuing. “After a performance like that, I don’t care what the numbers say. None of it matters. What’s important is the love, and I love all of you so much. Thank you for an amazing final run.”

Shivering in the twenty-three degree temperature, we eagerly awaited the announcement of scores. We did win that night, in our hearts and in the eyes of the judges, who placed us first in Open Class (all bands with more than one hundred members – we had twenty-nine), in addition to five caption awards. As great as it felt taking home those trophies, what felt better was realizing that together, we did something that had not been done in previous years. The band that took the field that night wasn’t just a band; it was a family. Shiny silver trophies now sit in the band room of Astoria High School, but only the members who experienced that evening can speak for the true accomplishments of that season. Even with the challenges we faced and the number of adversities, we still managed to defy the odds of being crowned champions that night. This accomplishment created a platform for the future of this group to grow on, as well as serve as a driving force of my personal music career.

“You don’t have to be big to win,” the judge announced, calling out our score. We already knew that, because all you need to win is love.

Moving on into college, I was unable to forget this night. However much my visions for my future changed, I could always remember what it felt like to love music, and to love the people who I could make music with. Over time, those friendships faded and I found a new family to fall into. As time moves forward and graduation creeps closer, I find myself feeling similarly to the way I did at my last marching band show; happy, sad, excited, scared. Fearful and curious of the future in front of me, and thankful for the memories I’ve made along the way. While the future is intimidating and unknown, I know now that our dreams our inevitable, and while our successes and failures may change us, it is the people around us who move us forward.

 

By: Lauren Anderson