I got a comment on an old post recently. The commenter has some medical problems. One of the things she mentions is that she just longs to have her body back.
I understand. Sometimes I miss my old body, with its sustained energy.
Except… I do still have my old body. It’s just a little hard to recognize what with all the wear and tear of time, traumas and illness. In the department store of life, it’s marked “as is.”
By and large, I remember to think those serene thoughts. But my current (relative) peace with my body is recent. I’ve spent most of the last 15 years struggling against reality.
In other words, my tranquility can be a little touch-and-go.
Usually, I think of the limitations as part of me — part of who I am now. But there are times that I consider the limitations to be things I’m stuck with.
Thinking that way means separating mind and body. As though my mind is my real self, while my body is just a nuisance. In that mindset, the body is an obstacle to be overcome or, worse, an enemy to be conquered.
I guess it’s an understandable sentiment. Guillain-Barre Syndrome is an auto-immune disease. For awhile, my body was the enemy.
Plus, I was paralyzed. My mind worked fine (in between narcotics) but my body wouldn’t obey my brain’s signals. Hard to get much more separate.
So I couldn’t really come to terms with the idea of being my body.
I know that’s a weird phrase. But it’s an accurate one. We are our bodies, our bodies are us. (And, no, that is not the title of a new Masters and Johnson book.)
We cannot exist without our bodies. We are, as the saying goes, the sum of our parts. That includes our brains, arms, legs, torso, naughty bits — everything.
To blame your body is to blame your cells for existing wrong. To hate your body is to hate yourself. And that is an exhausting proposition. Trust me, I know.
As time passed (read: lots and lots of therapy), I learned to forgive myself for being broken. Then, with lots more therapy, I learned to stop calling myself broken.
Instead, I referred to my limitations.
Everyone has limitations. Everyone eventually hits a wall. True, most people hit theirs long after I reach mine. But they still have walls and still smack up against them. Remembering that makes me feel less “other.”
Similarly, I had to quit putting myself down… as much. Like, using the word “lazy” instead of “tired.” It couldn’t be that I was too exhausted to walk to the store. No, clearly it was a lack of drive.
I grew up in a household where no one was very kind to themselves. Maybe that’s where it came from. Or maybe it’s because you can control laziness, but not chronic fatigue.
Whatever the reason, limitations are a lot harder to accept when you belittle them as weaknesses or character flaws.
So, for sanity’s sake, I slowly (and grudgingly) changed how I framed things. In doing so, I felt less shame about my shortcomings.
From a distance, I could see my previous attitude in all of its ridiculously mean, condescending glory. I would never treat anyone else with such disdain and with such a lack of empathy. So why was it okay to treat myself that way?
It strengthened my resolve to cut myself a break. Since then, I’ve definitely made strides… but I suspect the process will be ongoing.
Please don’t misunderstand me: Words will not change your life, (Unless maybe you write a bestseller.) A change of vocabulary or outlook will not magically fix you. Anyone who says otherwise should be smacked. Hard.
But words do shape your thoughts. And if you’re tired of self-recrimination and condescension, maybe change some of your words. It may be a small step toward accepting yourself. Or at least more than you do now.
I know that I save a lot of energy now that I don’t fight or belittle myself (as much).
In the immortal words of Margaret Cho:
“So from the age of 10, I became anorexic, and then bulimic, and then stayed that way for about 20 years, until one day I just said, ‘Hey, what if this is it? What if this is just what I look like and nothing I do changes that? So how much time would I save if I stopped taking that extra second every time I look in the mirror to call myself a big fat fuck? How much time would I save if I just let myself walk by a plate-glass window without sucking in my gut and throwing back my shoulders? How much time would I save?’ And it turns out I save about 97 minutes a week. I can take a pottery class.”