Last week, I got a name for a behavior that has long afflicted my youngest daughter. The behavior is craving and /or consuming substances which are not food – recently it has been crayons and pencil erasers – and the name is pica.
Lots of people manifest it, but no one knows exactly what causes pica. Some theorize that it is a symptom of nutritional deficiency, others that it stems from a low level poisoning such as of lead. Many people who are diagnosed on the Autism spectrum experience it (though of course, there are some who believe Autism itself results from mineral poisoning, so that may be redundant).
Whatever the cause, the universal consensus is it’s not good for you.
My daughter is diagnosed with PDD-NOS and has eaten non-food substances off and on nearly all her life. When she was a toddler, it was dirt and sand. By preschool she favored play-doh and plastic toys. Now that she is eight, apparently she has graduated to school supplies. Until now, we as a family have tended to shake our heads at her cuteness and shrug it off. We know it’s unhealthy, and we certainly discourage it, but every time she successfully phases out the behavior, then later it becomes something to joke about.
The thing is, she knows it’s not good for her. Her mind responds well to rules, and she has memorized the reasons for not doing it, can quote them for you endlessly. She even has put to memory some alternate choices to help her not do it, such as twiddling her thumbs or eating a cracker. Yet the minute her brain turns elsewhere – for perfectly good reasons such as doing school work or playing pretend – back in the mouth goes the pencil. Knowledge is not enough.
In my ideal world, I will sniff around and research and think through it enough to discover the root cause. Then I will fix it, and she will have conquered the problem forever and can move on to grander pursuits that are not socially awkward, such as becoming an astronaut or saving all of the lost kittens. My ideal world eludes me every day, unfortunately. In the meantime, I am working on creative solutions involving things that are okay to put in her mouth (dental hygiene tools, perhaps?) and praying for guidance so that we can truly beat this thing for good.
Pica is a very visible faulty behavior. It’s easy to look at the kid shoveling sand in her mouth and think her either silly or defective for doing it. Yet in this case, once again, the little children lead me and I have to ask: Am I so very much more evolved myself?
I consume things that are not food all the time. Facsimiles for reality have more of a place in my daily routine than truth. A burger with fries is not a meal (depending on where they came from, it might not even be actual food!), and a full belly is not satisfaction. Showing up for work is not doing a good job. Waving to my neighbor is not being a neighbor. Facebook is not friendship. Attending a weekly church service is not righteousness. Quoting scripture is not speaking for God.
I am rather convicted by this picture of filling up on falsehood and potentially hurting myself in the process – all in the name of relieving a damage that I can’t quite even define.
My Sunday School class yesterday discussed a similar topic while studying the book of Micah. In the final chapters, the prophet chastises the people for practicing ritual without heart and lists among the consequences always eating, yet never being filled. That’s spiritual pica right there, and I totally have it.
There’s more to my life and call than this. I know there is. Today I am praying to move beyond knowledge and into active pursuit of real life. I would rather suffer now for what will feel better later than forge relief now with what will hurt me later.
Plus, I’m tired of wiping this dirt off my mouth all the time.