As a child, I was ultra-submissive. I never rocked the boat. I was terrified of breaking the rules. I was rigid and well-behaved, trembling at the thought of doing anything rebellious. As an adolescent and teenager, I was the same meek, timid, rule-following legalist. I craved structure, rules, and boundaries. I even made my own arbitrary world of boundaries and structure because the set rules were not rigid enough. They diagnosed my world of rules as “anorexia.” I lived and breathed rules. They defined me. Without my system of restriction, I had no sense of self. How sad is it when your identity is shaped by what you refuse to do? I built this prison for myself, and I got way too comfortable in it.
Somewhere along the line, however, I broke. After a lifetime of worshipping the rules, I could no longer walk the tightrope that I had strung for myself. I didn’t turn wild-child or anything, but I did let loose a bit. I ate desserts. I had real, legitimate conversations with God and asked Him what seemed like “off-limits” questions. I allowed myself to get angry and express my anger. I allowed myself to voice the truth of my suffering. I risked relationships: real, meaningful relationships. I watched tough movies. I said words like “crap” without flinching. I stopped trying to be absolutely perfect in every way. And I embraced a new kind of freedom. I also uncovered this inner rebel whom I had never before encountered. I stepped out of my box.
Many people around me encouraged this new slightly rebellious side. In anorexia recovery, it is difficult to really make strides toward freedom without stepping outside of one’s own rigidly structured habits. I became more spontaneous, which allowed me to experience a new side of my own humanity and made space for joy and excitement. As restrictive living lessened, my world expanded, and as my world expanded, I realized that I had been hiding from a bunch of phantoms that I had dreamed up. Many of my fears were nothing but smoke and mirrors.
This rebel was helpful in recovery from an eating disorder, and I am extremely thankful to have tasted the fresh life of freedom.
In an unfortunate turn of events, however, I find myself trying to navigate a new world of restrictions. These restrictions are imposed by doctors and my treatment team as we try to manage my chronic illnesses. The Megan of my youth would have clung to restrictions and been the most compliant patient on the planet. She would follow doctors orders at all times and never imagine pushing the envelope. Unfortunately, this Megan is quite different from the Megan of my youth.
I have this need to push the limits. Some providers on my treatment team call this going “rogue.” With the unpredictability of POTS and MCAD, I am supposed to be in a wheelchair when I leave the house. With the temperature in the 90’s most afternoons, I need to stay inside because my body cannot regulate its own thermostat. With my complex set of allergies and motility issues, I am on a strict diet, involving no processed food, refined sugar, artificial colors, animal protein, dairy, gluten, and fiber. Basically, I can eat about five to ten percent of food options out there.
I find myself bucking up against these medical boundaries that have been compassionately placed upon me. The rebel in me says, “No one can tell me what I can’t do,” so I sneak in a handful of teddy grahams. I take the kids out in the backyard on a hot afternoon. I “forget” to remind my husband to put my wheelchair in back of the car. I scoff at the rigidity of the rules and try to do my own thing. The rules seem oppressive. It seems like people are trying to rob me of life and freedom and fun. And since my rebellious years are a bit delayed, I act a bit like a typical rebellious teenager, turning on her heels away from those who love her as they summon her to a life that they know is more life-giving. She is convinced, however, that they are trying to rob her of “real life.”
So as I do my own thing, I reap the consequences. I eat what I feel like eating, and I suffer tremendous pain and sometimes near-anaphalaxis as a result. I take my children outside to play, and I collapse in the grass when my legs give out due to heat exhaustion. I “conveniently” forget my wheelchair and end up in bed for a couple days after a simple doctor’s appointment. I wail that it is not fair, and I all but beat my chest with my fists at the injustice of my life. I pout, and if I had the energy, I would stomp my stubborn feet all the way to my bed.
I didn’t ask for these restrictions, and I resent them. But I am reminded that they are there so that I can actually have a chance at life. These restrictions are not like my self-imposed prison that I created so many years ago. They are life-giving boundaries, placed around me so that I can move safely and freely in this life that is mine to live.
I have to avoid many foods so that I can be pain-free and empowered to pursue important goals in my life. I cannot be the mother, friend, and wife that I was created to be if I am in the midst of allergic reaction after allergic reaction. I have a wheelchair so that I can go out and enjoy the events and activities that other people get to enjoy. What if I could see my wheelchair as a vehicle that could transport me further into abundance and hope? I cannot go outside often, but I can be inside in a stable environment, reading stories to my little ones, singing songs, playing my keyboard, and writing so that my life can bring meaning and life to others.
These boundaries that surround my life look different than what I had expected my borders to look like. That does not mean, however, that they are meant to be disregarded and cast aside. In my rebellion, I will suffer. The rules are not created to chastise me or smother me. They are created to free me to live more fully.
I still feel like a rebel, and I kind of like the rebel part of me. I still want to eat chocolate cake, french fries, and maybe a really delicious salad. But I want to live a meaningful, abundant life, and for me, that means learning to settle into a particular set of boundaries.
In the perfect world, where there is no suffering, pain, or sickness, this lifestyle would be unnecessary. One day, when I know as I am fully known, I will be unfettered by a failing body. But that is not today, and this is not the perfect world. The Kingdom is not fully here on earth, so I will submit and trust that I can still taste the glories of the Kingdom as I navigate life within these new borders.
I am slowly learning to find freedom within these boundaries, and it is beautiful.