So honored to share the following post written by my dear English friend, Katy. Her courage, strength, love, and humor never fail to inspire me, and I’m delighted to share a bit of her story with you today.
Hating my body is easy. Outward appearance is one thing: all the socio-cultural expectations we women deal with – the too-fat or flabby bits, the lack of a thigh gap, the faint lines and wrinkles slowly etching themselves on my face thanks to the natural (and mostly happy) range of my human expression over nearly three decades of life. They’re the kinds of things that women’s magazines simultaneously instruct us to love and shame us into hating.
But I’m usually able to temper these negatives and remind myself they come from a vacuous media world; they don’t need to register with me. I can find things I love about my appearance to swing the scales the other way, and I’m forever impressed by what a good outfit and a bit of make-up can do in a moment of insecurity.
What’s harder to overcome is the resentment I feel about my body’s functioning, or rather, malfunctioning. When it decides to initiate self-destruction proceedings because it believes that some entirely benign thing I’ve consumed is actually evil, or when my exhaustion and stress levels soar briefly high enough to push my defence mechanisms into overdrive, the results can range from the slightly uncomfortable and occasionally embarrassing to the completely debilitating.
I resent the joints, and even the hardworking muscles, ligaments and tendons in my left leg, when the joints stiffen and become petulantly unresponsive, and the stretchy bits pull unnaturally to make anything work. I am conscious of this leg every time I take a step. Every step. I walk thousands of them a day, and with each one I notice the pushing back of the knee, the dead-lift of the foot, the straining of the ligaments, the overcompensation of the hip. Then there’s the pressure and double-click of the knee every time there’s a forceful bend, such as climbing the stairs or crouching. The occasional, sharp or jarring pain, or dull ache in a joint. The treachery of my foot when I stare at it, willing it into the full rotation it refuses to do.
I resent my brain when it forgets words, or knowledge of the world in general, when it seems to abandon me in a sea of confusion, and I can’t even explain to anyone in the moment what the hell is going on. I resent the impossibility of reading when tired, the miscommunicated messages because I’m suddenly and unexpectedly left to rely on a kind of sonic memory rather than actual vocabulary, the cringe-worthy moments like leaving an offensively low tip in a restaurant because I momentarily lost all understanding of place value.
I resent my gut when it grumbles and rumbles and sends me running for the toilet, as I desperately try to think of what gluten-containing item I could have possibly consumed, and fail to come up with anything. I wonder if that nutritionist was right about the common comorbidity of coeliac disease and lactose intolerance, but not for long enough to make any firm promises to try cutting out dairy, the foodstuff I love the most.
I resent the eye that has no central vision, the lack of throwing and catching ability it may or may not be responsible for, and the consequent humiliation in every PE lesson I ever suffered at school. I resent the maddening, bright, electric swirls that whirl about my iris in the dead of night when I’m trying to fall asleep, taunting me with some spectre of a visual sphere that melts away in daylight.
But then, at the risk of becoming a soul entirely at odds with the body it resides in, I try to pull myself together. I think of those thousands upon thousands of steps my leg takes in its backwards fashion, how the joints loosen with the right exercise, how the ligaments go to heroic lengths to keep me moving, how brilliantly the hip accommodates the strange movement. How, if my leg seizes up, it slowly comes back to life, with no perceptible damage done. I think of the perseverance of my right leg, which uncomplainingly takes up more than its share of the burden to compensate.
I’m humbled by the fact that my autoimmune disease is one largely controlled by diet. Simply from not eating gluten, my body has been able to repair a lot of damage, and keeps itself in pretty good health. Perhaps because my immune system is used to being on high alert, it takes a lot for me to get sick. Coughs, colds, shivers – in my adult life, I’ve suffered those less and less, even when they strike those around me. That’s when I can be proud of my body’s highly-strung defence system.
I’m amazed and grateful that I have pretty good sight, despite only having one-and- a-bit eyes with which to see. The missing circle of vision hasn’t stopped me driving a car, nor limited my depth perception in any crucial way. I may not be the next tennis star, but nor do I constantly bang into things, and I’m rarely aware that some of my sight isn’t there.
I’m slowly learning to understand my body’s flare-ups as warning signs, distress signals. They indicate that I’m pushing it too far, exhausting it too much, and they offer the opportunity to slow down before anything really bad happens. Refusing to read late at night is the sign that my brain needs to shut down and rest. My gut grumbling says that I’m not feeding my body as well and as healthily as I should. This body of mine might be an overdramatic communicator, but it’s an effective one. I just have to learn to listen, and not jump so quickly to frustration or panic.
It’s all too easy to fear that things might get worse. I might lose language or other mental capacities, and never recover them (that’s a dark fear reserved for late, language-less nights and strange, surreal moments when the world slips away from me, and I from it). My joints might stop responding to exercise, or the ligaments might give up. My body might damage itself so much that certain things are beyond repair.
But the resilience of this flawed, sometimes infuriating, body takes some reckoning with. It faces every problem with a lot more strength and courage than my soul often has. It instinctively knows when to rest, when to fight. It keeps going. Step after step, day after day, night after night. Even when I rail against it, my body carries on. Lungs keep breathing, heart keeps pumping, nerves keep firing.
There’s a lot this body can do. It can dance, jump, perform short bursts of what might kindly be described as running, contort itself into yoga positions, heft weights at the gym, climb mountains, swim, windsurf. It’s slowly learning how to tip-toe again. It can see, hear, taste, smell, respond to the slightest of touches, balance, anticipate, and it delights in making the most of each of those senses.
It improves, repairs, and heals itself. It can even occasionally catch a ball. For all of those things and more, I love it.
My body is far from perfect. It’s a body in constant war with itself, a long, drawn out war, in which there are sometimes long ceasefires, but never a total peace deal. Yet it’s a courageous body, a problem-solver, a source of unimagined strength, even when it seems weak. Especially when it seems weak. How can you not love a body like that?