I Have a Chronic Illness, and It Has Changed My Relationship With My Body
I was a beautiful child. I never thought much about it. Actually, if you had asked me at 8 or 13 years old if I was pretty, I would have laughed in your face. I was too busy riding horses, climbing trees, and bodysurfing waves for hours on end to think much about how I looked. I was aware that men had a tendency to look at me a little too long, but I wasn’t a fan. I tried not to think about those negatives of being pretty, and instead, I just enjoyed my life.
Until I got an eating disorder.
I wasn’t trying to destroy myself, but I was going to war against the parts of myself that made me uncomfortable and made other people react in ways I found painful.
I have spent the past 15 years trying to make up to myself for the consequences of a few teenage years of very bad choices. Between the ages of 13 and 18, I did my best to starve my body down to size. I didn’t like my hips, I didn’t like my breasts, and I didn’t like the fact that suddenly men treated me like I owed them something. I didn’t like the way this society taught the people around me to read my body. I didn’t like that other women saw me as their competition. Instead of fighting back against all of these forces, I fought back against my own body.
I wasn’t trying to destroy myself, but I was going to war against the parts of myself that made me uncomfortable and made other people react in ways I found painful. And I was winning that war, when something told me to stop fighting.
Instead, I began to heal. I spent time with myself, with the inner child who I had berated and bullied into obedience for all those years. I developed an inner life and a strong sense of self. I went to a therapist and a herbalist and a chiropractor and a good doctor. I discovered I have an autoimmune disease, one that makes digestion painful and difficult. I healed.
I healed, but I don’t look like someone who has healed, at least not according to popular culture mythology. Because I’m no longer cute and pretty and bite-size. Instead, I’m fat. I have been fat for the past 10 or so years of my life. I have seen nutritionists (plural) and fitness instructors. I have altered my diet and my exercise, and it always works for a few months, up until my autoimmune disease kicks up and interrupts my fitness regimen. My body is adamant that exercise and dieting are just not where we are at right now.
Where I am at is trying to learn to love this body that I have.
I have fought hard for this body. I spent a year of my life throwing up everything I ate, not on purpose, but because my body could not remember how to digest food. When I needed life-saving gallbladder surgery, I had to drive myself to the hospital and insist my pain be taken seriously. I finally earned my bachelor’s degree and I even earned a graduate degree, all while struggling with days on end where I literally could not eat anything. A day where I can keep down enough calories to feed myself is a good day.
I am grateful for my autoimmune disease, because it has taught me how to view my body as vulnerable and precious. It has taught me never to take even basic things for granted, like being able to go out to dinner and enjoy a meal. It has taught me the importance of emotional boundaries because I simply have so little energy to spend. I’m not going to spend it indulging other people’s needs at the cost of my own, like I used to do. My autoimmune disease has taught me how to really live.
My autoimmune disease also keeps me fat. There is really not much I can do about that. I learned a long time ago that my body is my best friend, and I don’t want to be someone who betrays and goes to war with my best friend.
I am grateful for my autoimmune disease, because it has taught me how to view my body as vulnerable and precious.
There are things I am never going to be able to do because I’m sick. Things like jump a horse bareback, or take a bike ride, or even go on a first date to a fancy restaurant. My life now has boundaries and barriers that I did not set and that I have no control over.
But knowing this has also demanded I wake up to the many, many things I can still do. I can develop the confidence in myself to wear a bathing suit, even in this body. I can flirt with a boy or tell a man I love him. I can write about sex and my body and women’s health, because these things matter to me. I can learn to love the person I am.
My life will never be the same. There are many dreams I have had to give up. Some days I am so angry or so sad, or just in so much pain, that I want to give up. But then I think about my body. My body has never given up on me. My body is counting on me to deserve the honour of being my body’s best friend. I am trying to be worthy of that gift. Most people would think my body is no longer beautiful, but when I look in the mirror, I see so much beauty.