Friday, December 7, 2012

Ping Pong

Christmas is in the air and my favorite city at this time of the year is Bern, Switzerland. As you emerge out of the train station you are greeted by the massive window of one of the stores, which is always elaborately decorated to suit the season or event. Yesterday was "chlousetag" or  "Santa day" in Switzerland, where Santa comes to your house, determines if you were good or bad, gives you mandarines, peanuts and a present. Yesterday however, Santa was inside the window taking photos with little kids, infecting them with the joyous christmas spirit. Vendors selling christmas cookies were lining the streets, the scent of cinnamon and pine was drifting through the air and the roads were elegantly laced with christmas lights. It was going to be a good day.

I awoke with excitement, because today was the day I was going to see one of my favorite and most trusted people - Dr. Prinz. I still remember, so vividly, the first time I met him. I was a frail girl, lost and lifeless. He was a larger than life character with a mighty laugh and with a genuine interest to help me. We instantly clicked and he became a fundamental part in my recovery.

The perception we have of psychiatrists is, generally, very stereotyped. There's a sofa on which you sit, the psychiatrist sits opposite you with his notepad firmly placed on his lap. Often the index finger sits somewhere near the corner of his mouth to give him an analytical look, eyes slightly squinted in thought, attempting to decipher the root of your problem.
Dr. Prinz was the opposite of that. We both sat in chairs as equals, I got to choose my spot. His office was decked out in Disney and Pixar posters, the notepad lay on the table not on his lap, he was interested in me as a person, not me with a problem.
The thing is, a person batteling an addiction, a condition or an illness is still a person. That "condition" isn't what identifies them as a person, it is simply a part of them, it is not the essence of them. Admittedly, when I was in the grips of Anorexia, I did believe it was my identity, the essence of me. Dr. Prinz taught me otherwise and now, in retrospect, I believe that was a crucial part in my recovery.
See, as Dr. Prinz was more interested in me, the person Belinda, he also encouraged me to learn about myself, to peel back the layers and realize that there was more to me than just a "successful" Anorexic. With Dr. Prinz Anorexia never stood in first place, she had to take the backseat, behind me.
Prinz taught me to gradually let go of Anorexia and gradually start grabbing on to life. There were sessions where Anorexia didn't even make it into the conversation because we were too busy discussing Roger Federer, or the events of the 2004 Athens Olympics, books and movies, but my favorite of all - playing Ping Pong. Who would have thought that a Psych would play Ping Pong with a patient when, in reality, they should be taking apart your problem and "fixing" you?

When we first started playing I hit the ball tentatively, to ensure it would hit the table, I wanted to be "perfect" at the game. I didn't want to make errors, because I believed they would reflect my failings as a person. Prinz, an outstanding Ping Pong player, would adapt his game to my level, occasionally hammering a winner over my end of the table (at his usually level) which, in turn, encouraged me to lift my game. Over time my apprehensions vanished and my game loosened up, much a reflection of my state of mind. The idea of hitting a ball that went too long, or even missing a hit became much more acceptable. And instead of playing with determination and tension, I began to play with fun and ease. Thats how I started beating Prinz, that's how I began beating Anorexia.

As I took a seat in Prinz's office yesterday his first comment to me was " I brought another T-shirt to change in to so we can have a Ping Pong rematch". Wow, he was getting serious about this game. So after lunch and catching up as friends, no longer on Doctor/Patient terms, we ventured to the Ping Pong stadium.
We began to play and I was keen to show him that my game had become stronger (thanks to the recent lessons from some great friens), as had I as a person.
The ball was hitting the paddles at a rapid pace, tactics were becoming ever more evident and pearls of sweat began to trickle down our foreheads. GAME ON!! We both played with an equal portion of competitiveness and fun. We were literally  chasing the ball from one corner of the table to the other. It was intensely fun... except for the part where I (hmmmm, should I admit this...?) Lost.
I lost the game but won my life back.

The religious game of Ping Pong with Prinz has been a great reflection of the process of my recovery from Anorexia. I learnt that in order to improve my game I had to learn to work on my weak points, I needed to learn to read the game, to have trust in my ability and to accept defeat but not let myself be defeated. As I have become stronger as a person, so has my game. And watch out Dr. Prinz, I will be back for revenge.

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