Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Wisdom on the Inside of a Mint Tin

“You can’t depend on your judgment when your imagination is out of focus.”

-Mark Twain

I found this quote on the inside of my mint tin this morning. I picked the mints up recently at my neighborhood co-op, finding myself in need. They happen to be certified organic, allergen-free, and vegan, and I liked that there were only three ingredients on the back and I could pronounce all of them, but I’ll admit that the main sell was proximity to the cash register. While I still don’t know if I have found my Holy Grail of mints I am rather fond of them at the moment…perhaps more so because of the quote on the inside of the lid. Even better: it’s a literary quote. And its timely arrival in my life solved a problem.

For those of you who have not been counting down the days, this week is Eating Disorders Awareness Week. I had been planning to do some extra-special blogs in honor of it, but have unfortunately been reminded recently that I am still technically a full time student with a multitude of extra-curricular responsibilities approaching the end of a busy term…and thus, it is Tuesday night and I am only blogging now. I had hoped to put up a quote to kick the week off but on a Google search couldn’t find anything that satisfactorily balanced the fine line between inspirational and sappy and also stimulated my intellect. This was when the mint tin entered the picture.

The quote may not seem immediately relevant, and I’m sure that Mark Twain had no inkling of eating disorders when he penned it, but it connected to something I recognized. My experience of my eating disorder emphasized a profound disconnect between reality and perception, judgment and imagination. When I began to realize that my perception of my body, food, and the world around me was incredibly distorted, I felt as though I could no longer trust my instincts. My mom used to say that my “antennae” were receiving bad signals.

At the same time, the dreamlike imagination and creativity I had always fostered was sadly out of focus. Instead of experiencing a range of emotion, I retreated to painful extremes. Rather than conjuring new worlds and characters, I became obsessed with minute details of the (seemingly) simple routine of nourishing my body. As I starved my body and deadened my emotions, I also starved my imagination. With the decline of my dreams came the rise of despair: I began to believe that my future was hopeless, and I was never, ever going to return to a life that was bearable. Why did it matter whether I ate or not? I was only going to amount to a failure anyway. If this need for control killed me, then so be it. I didn’t think it mattered enough to prevent, and the alternative—facing my emotions and opening myself up to disappointment—was almost unimaginable.

I’m not saying the only solution to my eating disorder was rekindling my creativity—I also needed several months of intensive therapy, medication, meal plans, and full treatment team—but for me, hope and imagination are always connected, and when those are stifled I enter a very dark, bleak place that I cannot see out of. I can no longer trust my intuition, instincts, or judgment to point me in the right direction, because my internal compass has become so skewed. When I am able to dream, I am also able to discern between healthy and unhealthy behaviors.

Etymological note: The inside of my mint tin actually printed the quote with the American English misspelling "judgement" (addition of an e). Having seen this version of the word many times and being the stickler for spelling that I am, I wanted to know the distinction. It turns out that when good ol' Noah Webster reformed American spelling he was also asserting cultural independence from its colonizer. Anyone who has taken a basic sociology class will tell you about the importance of language in making meaning, and I intend to discuss it in a future post...but anyone who is as hopelessly nerdy as I am can appreciate the revelation that Webster is the reason for one of my major pet peeves: theater vs. theatre.


  1. And which one is correct? I've often wondered.

    Great post, Beth!!

  2. you are a wealth of insight and information, beth. i like this one.

  3. Speaking of mints, did you know that this is Girl Scout Cookie season? I enjoyed reading...

  4. I learned something new about 'judgment' today! And theatre ;) It is fascinating just how much language influences practically everything that we do, how we interact, and how we perceive ourselves and the world. I look forward to reading your thoughts on the topic!