On Fasting, Fainting and What Being a Bad Fake Muslim Can Teach You
I fasted for Ramadan for a whopping six days. On the seventh day, I cleaned house. I was in full whirling cleaning dervish mode when the black spots began to coalesce and forced me to the playroom floor to contemplate the ceiling, breathe through the low blood sugar and pray for the near-faint to pass.
Choices. Sometimes they’re made a gunpoint, sometimes they’re made in ashrams, sometime they’re made on your knees, sometimes they’re made from the yet-to-be vacuumed carpet. This was my dilemma: I could have a dirty house and be a good pseudo-Muslim or I could clean my house, which required a snack as one generally can’t clean from the prone position, and eating would make me a bad, non-fasting Muslim. Since I’m not Muslim, and clutter makes me anxious, it was no choice at all. I chose to be a bad fake Muslim, and eat, and clean. I consoled myself with the thought that cleanliness is next to godliness. I may be mixing my religious traditions and aphorisms. Don’t judge.
So the discipline thing: I suck at it. I have new respect for people who can control their bodies and their desires and their blood sugar levels. Mine own my ass.
Still, despite the fact that I did it badly – and anything worth doing is worth doing badly – there are things I learned while fasting for six days:
- I get borderline frantic when hungry
- I started wondering about the borderline frantic: is it pyschological? Evidence of addiction behaviour? Am I literally tweaking for a hit? Or is it just biological and low blood sugar is signalling for nourishment?
- I think it is both. There were moments when I was intensely upset about Issues (dude. you know who you are) and literally didn’t know how to soothe myself if I couldn’t snack. That’s definitely psychological, habitual, possibly addicted stuff right there. And it was unpleasant. I was all shaky-frantic from fasting-induced low blood sugar, and then emotionally frantic about Issues, and then frantic about being frantic and not being able to mediate the physical and emotional franticness with snacking. It was an endless loop of frantic. No wonder I had Issues.
- I’ve also had the holyshitnewsflash that it is biological too. I’ve always been the kind of person who needs to eat every couple of hours and gets superfuckingirritable if I don’t. Right after I stopped fasting and started eating ‘normally’ I suddenly made the connection between sugar, coffee, hypglycemia and panic attacks. This is a great insight to possess but sadly mandates a tedious, unsexy action plan. This self-knowledge business requires a lot of work. Fuck.
- Getting up at 4am for the predawn meal made me mercenary in my food choice: protein. protein. protein. It is fuel that lasts a long time. And water. Fruit juice would just induced a sugar high and then a crash and the crash was really, really unpleasant when I was already jonesing for food. Coffee or anything that dehydrated me was just an act of self-hatred since I couldn’t satiate that thirst for 16-18 hours at a time.
- This mercenary approach to food, of absolutely needing to make the best choices to fuel my body, made me wonder: why am I not doing this all the time?
- Food is really basic. We need it to exist. Even taking it away – from yourself! – for 12-18 hours alters your perception of the world and yourself. Which, when I think about the cultural mandate around dieting and women, makes me think that our society really, actively, literally hates fat people and women. Because when we say things like ‘they could diet’, we are literally saying: they could starve themselves. They could physically deprive themselves and endure the emotional cycling and the physical crashes that ensue. And they should, and I actively want for them to do that, and feel that, and live like that, possibly for the rest of their lives. I want them to be punished. And wow that instinct is ugly and violent.
These new patches of knowledge, and my attempt to stitch them together into purposive consciousness, are why people fast. There is a point to fasting in religious traditions. Fasting gets you outside your usual routines, habits and experience. Fasting makes you focus intensely on your physicality and in that focus is transcendance, because sometimes when you’re looking for God, you look down, and in, not up. Fasting is outside of the accustomed and so it stands as a contrast to your habits, and in that contrast are questions: why? Why not? Does it have to be this way? How else could it be? Deprivation unleashes imagination. Creativity cannot be constrained and the more constraints introduced the wilder the creation. Fasting also induces mental illness. I’m being facetious, but only partially. Fasting makes you shaky and vulnerable and mental ‘illness’ is a construct of perception. I’ve been crazy, sort of, if clinical depression can be called crazy. It is not an easy place to live but it has a brilliance, too. To borrow from my beloved Leonard Cohen, who knows a little something about religious contemplation, it is in those cracked moments that the light shines in.