Choosing A Nature Perspective Helps @drplasticpicker rethink Eating Disorders
February 22, 2020
It is 441AM on a Saturday morning and I am typing away. In about an hour and a half, the sun will be rising and it will be time for me to plog to the beach and pick up another bag of ocean plastic. Daylight Savings time is coming. On March 8 at 2AM, we will move forward an hour and it will be 3AM. That means on March 8, I will likely instead of waking up at 4AM will wake up at 5AM. The blogging and beach cleaning most mornings and the deep restful nights of sleep, has reset my body to be with the earth. On March 8, I am going to be fine just as I was fine the last time our clocks “fell back.”
I am sitting at the kitchen table looking at the first house plant I have ever purchased. It is a “ponytail palm” from Home Depot. Last night, we had to go shopping for our daughter’s History Day project. Her middle school friends are coming over later to have a marathon work session, and we had to pick up supplies. We went to the local Michael’s and Home Depot. As someone who has been picking up ocean plastic pollution for the last 6 months, walking into a deserted Michael’s on Friday night with the light reflecting off all the new plastic and glittery things was a bit discombobulating. I know at some point all those shiny plastic things will become more weathered plastics for me to pick up.
We only bought what we needed, but it reminded me that how I see the world has changed. Then we went to Home Depot I shied away from all the things we did not need. Instead my daughter and I walked by the plants. Here were things that were living. Our daughter bought a bamboo plant for her room, and I bought this “ponytail palm.” Mr. Plastic Picker finally found the machine screws our daughter needed for her History Day poster and we left with those and our two new house plants.
Viewing the world through the lens of nature, has changed everything. I’m looking at the local AAA Westways magazine this month and the title is “Frame of Mind” and it is completely true. I was talking to a family yesterday in clinic, and I spoke about how we choose the images that we deploy into our brains and that informs how we view the world – our “Frame of Mind.”
In this case, it was a little 10-year-old girl I have cared for since birth. Her parents have a lot of common sense. She is a dancer, and her father was worried. Although my young patient’s BMI was well within normal range, she has mentioned that she thought she was “fat.” This is a young-girl with no other medical or psychiatric issues and lives with a set of married parents who co-parent well.
I wore my white coat that day over my favorite flowery blouse my mother mended several months ago, and a pair of old black cotton slacks that I have recently come to love. I see those pants differently now, because I know when they are washed – no plastic microfibers go into the ocean. So I wear them preferentially now. I sat on my wheely round stool, and scooted myself backwards until my back rested on the wall. I was sitting coplaner with the father, and our patient was about 1 feet elevated to us sitting upright on the exam table. We were in a triangular formation with some space between us all. How one positions oneself is very important. Your body posture is important when you are a doctor because it denotes relative positions of power. This is why I often will sit on the step stool and why I was purposefully trying to take a more relaxed pose to set our young patient at ease.
So as I sit relaxed, leaning my back on the wall with my legs outstretched – I gently ask this young prepubertal dancer about what she thinks about her body. I let father express his worries. He is usually quiet but today he is pointed in his comments. I know this young girl’s body posture well. I’ve taken care of her before when she has had asthma exacerbations, and when her posture is tense she is usually hypoxic. Today she is just a bit tense and her oxygen is normal, and breath sounds clear without wheezes.
My “Frame of Mind” is different now. I am a different pediatrician than I was 6 months ago. I have always found patients with eating disorders challenging particularly anorexia nervosa. I remember doing my inpatient psychiatry rotation as a 3rd year medical student and being on the grounds of McClean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusettes. There were these eerily manicured green grass and stark white buildings. It looked like a university but was empty since all the patients were mostly locked up and a few psychiatrist wandering around. It was one of the most famous psychiatry facilities in the country. It looked like the setting of a horror movie honestly. As a young medical student, I remeber sitting as an observor in a group therapy session. The teenagers were discussing cutting themselves and how relieved it made them feel. I sat there, feeling so discombobulated. I was the only non-white person in the room, and wearing my medical student short coat. I wondered if I was going to be able to get off the grounds safely.
I found all severe psychiatric disorders back them challenging because I did not understand where these patients were coming from. How did it get so bad? And as a young medical student, I felt helpless. There was little I could do. There was little that that entire soulless looking institution could do. It seemed so eery , so unnatural. How could this place heal? I was so happy to finish that rotation.
So as I sat with my back against the wall 18 years later, talking to my 10-year-old patient that is beginning with some body issues – thoughts of McLean flitted through my head and thoughts of my own daughter as well. I am now over 40 wearing semi-faded black cotton pants becauase they won’t wash microplastic fibers into the ocean. I am back in Southern California in an outpatient pediatric office where I take care of young families many of the parents friends that I grew up. That feeling of helplessness is gone. I chose to adopt this character/this avatar drplasticpicker. When I talk about the environment and the blog to my friends, sometimes I dismissively say about myself, “But I’m just playing a character.” But somehow in the last 6 months, I have become this character. Dr. Plastic Picker and I have merged, and we are both stronger for it.
I feel that I can heal patients better now. I have more power. The white coat that I had once felt like belonged to someone else, is part of who I am. This persona of the eco-warrior I am now @drplasticpicker is part of who I am. I have chosen to fill my life with nature, and plastic picking, and silly trash art – and also open my heart wider to not only my own children but to the children I care for as their pediatrician. I have always loved them, but I love them now as fellow-creatures as part of this earth that we are trying to save.
So after listening to my young patient and her father, and being fully present for them. I told this 10-year-old girl a story. I told her the same rambling story I have been spinning for 6 months. That her pediatrician now picks up trash and I am making trash art, and I showed her the pictures of Chirp Chirp. She laughed in joy and her formerly rigid posture relaxed. Father also smiled through his beard. And then I told her how this relates to what she is going through. This is a summary of my rambling comments to her.
“When I think of whether you are healthy, I don’t think of a number. Health is not a number. It is not your weight. They did not have weight scales hundreds of years ago, and they did not have mirrors everywhere. And they did not have SnapChat and photoshop. And it is just wrong that people edit what they look like. I have seen parents photoshop out the baby acne in their baby’s pictures.
The images and experiences you choose to put in your brain are very important. That is why I want your parents to take out your full length body mirror in your room, and limit your social media. I want you to fill your mind with lovely memories and inputs from nature and dance and your real life.
I have a little girl who is just a few years older than you. She does not have a full length mirror in her room, because I want her to think about developing her internal person. I want her to fill her mind with the stories from her books, and the cuddles from her puppy and two bunnies. I want her to always develop her mind, her intelligence, her passions and her morales. I want my daughter to have a healthy body, and always think of her body as a beautiful thing that can do things. A body needs fuel to move that is filled with real non-plastic-esncased food like whole fruits, vegetables and high-fiber foods. Just like you are a wonderful dancer, if you can move your body with speed and power – than that is healthy.”
We laughed dear readers. We smiled. And she looked ten again. And I promised I would tell her when the trash art exhibition would be for our blog. And I finally did what I wanted to do. I am both a general pediatrician who cares for children from birth until college, and I am an Eco-Warrior @drplasticpicker – and I think together we can also stop the cascade into disordered eating. Because the rising prevalence of eating disorders have something to do with the food industry coming in and distorting our food supply and making food nutrient poor and calorie dense. Rising prevalence of eating disorders has something to do with social media images of early-hyper-sexualized-preteens (a la Disney Channel) that are bombarding our preteens with these distorted body images when instead they should be at the beach or hiking and looking at trees and the sky. Eating disorders have to do with our disconnect from each other, our natural world, our food. And if drplasticpicker can get everyone to come to the beach with me in your old worn cotton clothes, pick up some plastic, and listen to the waves together and actually look at eachother in the natural light of the rising sun – I really think we can heal ourselves and heal our earth. Because a little 10-year-old girl she never think she is anything other than wonderful.