Size, Symmetry, and Sickness: Loving My Body Through the Unthinkable
This type of dramatic break and healing is so well written that it’s almost stale. Unless it’s your journey. And then it’s terribly compelling.
I should have known by the casual tone that the doctor used that something was up. I suppose I really need to forgive myself for not being at my best. I didn’t have any idea what I was getting into, let alone a diagnosis, and being naked under a sheet, whether you like your gynecologist or not, is enough to distract anyone, or draw them down a few IQ points.
In retrospect, the blood tests weren’t so generic.
If I had shared with my gal pals at least one of them would have known my doctor was testing me for thyroid issues. (A silent but socially acceptable epidemic among women of a certain age.)
If I was fair to my body it was the least of the problems I could have expected from a six-month stint in Afghanistan. Between the work hours (7 days a week, 12 hours a day often blooming to 18 or 20), the vaccinations (smallpox, anthrax, and a few others I try to forget), the sexual assault rate (hovering over 30%), the closure of the land passage with Pakistan where most of the fresh food was shipped, and the burning of trash and heavy metals (which, you know, cause noxious fumes) a thyroid disorder was probably the prettiest of potential penalties.
Three months later with the endocrinologist, raging at the idea of taking a pill a day for the rest of my life, I was missing that context. I was on fire at life. Indignant that my body had failed me again. The same old story.
You see I had a litany of grievances against my body that I could recite with ease. It went well beyond my shitty ankle strength or JLo booty in Kate Moss times. It started with the first time I remember my body disappointing me. And it was noteworthy for the force of the humiliation.
If you think back far enough you probably can find your body’s original sin, can’t you?
The break that started it all. When I speak with other women I find so often the stories start with some other schism that isn’t sexual abuse, even when it’s there. That happened with me too.
I remember being mortified as a passerby commented on the red tinge of my first menstrual cycle peeking through my bleach-white bike shorts. Cringeworthy anytime, but particularly awful walking the hallways in 7th grade.
Not so long after that indignity, two boys in gym class let me know shamelessly that my hairy legs and arms made me look like a monkey.
Frankly, the combo made me desperate to melt into the walls and never see sunlight again. But things can shift powerfully, my friend. Miraculously. Automagically even.
If you had told me then I would heal my relationship to my innate feminine I would have rolled my eyes in your general direction, as I was swimming in the urge to erase every part that made me different. And visible.
And if you had assured me afterward I would mend the connection to my form and features I would have not so politely suggested you were drinking and needed to sober up.
Of course, I’m 35 now. And that was long ago.
These days it’s not uncommon to hear fellow writers and coaches talking about the power of claiming your body exactly as it is. And my mind and size 18 behind have benefited from and support that social shift. We gain nothing from arguing against reality. Or condemning who and where we are on our journeys.
I write that and it sounds like I’m an enlightened master drinking matcha on the side of a mountain, doesn’t it? But it has not been easy to learn to trust and love my body.
I used to work in an incredibly stressful industry where 80 hour weeks were not uncommon, impossible tasks were the norm and the stakes felt overwhelmingly high. I took it seriously. And I was so exceptionally good at what I did. I worked so hard and I viewed every cold and headache as an act of treason. Anything other than showing up powerfully for work was a way of my body failing me. My health was a resource that I used to support my endless career goals and my expectations of my body were wildly out of whack with reality.
I honestly assumed I’d be able to keep that wheel spinning forever. Even if I wasn’t a petite size I could outwork them all and deliver exactly what the boss wanted at the crucial moment. Even if I could never hide my lumbering nose in the family photo I had more awards and commendations than those pretty girls would ever have dates.
Until I didn’t.
Until I couldn’t.
You see there was a plot twist that I couldn’t have predicted despite being so very clever. Mostly because my ego was obscuring the view.
After half a year in Afghanistan, I came back to my office. More fired up than ever. I had seen things. I was even more connected to the stakes. I was ready to roar and tear through the bureaucracy to get results. Except I was tired all the time and suddenly even with my anger and expertise it was hard to work six hours a day. Except if I skipped lunch my body would rebel and I could feel my hands starting to shake. Except for the disorienting way that one commercial before the evening news reminded me of the rocket attack warning beacon, setting my heart speeding, with only alcohol slowing it down.
And thank God, the Universe, Divine, it did. The shift in my work life was a game changer for me. Work WAS my life. My body might have been too big, too curvy, too much but it didn’t fall out on me from career demands. So when it finally did there was no avoiding the pain and paying attention to the present moment. I had to focus on what was in front of me, and what I was feeling. And that was when the real healing began.
Being diagnosed with an enduring medical condition that has me, in optimistic scenarios, taking a pill a day for the rest of my life has been an intervention from spirit. I can’t ignore my body and its demands. I have to consciously plan for my needs and respect them. I select the food that best nourishes my body with love and thoughtfulness. I have slowly edited out so many things that did not serve & that before I was too hard headed to ditch. Including my toxic ex, a career that was killing me, alcohol that was numbing me, and a few other woeful things I’ll keep private.
Now I am infused with gratitude for my body developing this disease. The twist that felt so much like catastrophe in the moment was simply creating space. The truth is that I was being smothered by my old life. And my body had the good sense to set off the only flares I would acknowledge.
Now I understand the Universe does a pretty miraculous job of taking me where I need to go. I just have to look for the signs.
I can see my body for what it is, a trustworthy ally NO MATTER WHAT - through sickness and health.
I know now that a cold is a stop sign. And exhaustion is a request for a pause.
And it’s not just a framework that works for my health. I’m constantly practicing seeing how life is happening for me, not to me. Now when I get sick (or run late, miss my train, and so on) I get really curious. Because things not happening according to my plan are a great space creator. And I’ve seen enough disaster preceding miracle that I’m really quite good at spotting the magic.
When I remember that I can assume good intentions in what I’m experiencing, that I can trust it’s all happening for my highest good in just the right way at exactly the right time, that I can listen to my body and move towards what feels like relief and away from what feels heavy, things get seriously magical and highly Matrix-y. It’s very juicy stuff. So good it feel like a wildly choreographed symphony.
Here’s to wishing you some incredible music.