08 April 2009

body talk: part 1

Anyone who has read this blog for any length of time knows that my body and I have been on quite a journey over the last few years (if not, this post aims at giving you a very broad retrospective). As the journey continues, I find myself revisiting and in some ways, reliving these previous experiences, turning and returning to what I’ve already learned, letting to truth drive deeper (but not always without a fight).

I’ve aimed to be as transparent as decency and the ridiculously public nature internet will allow, and it is my aim to continue to do so. The journey is one that has included periodic peaks, a whole lot of valley, and the occasional precipice over which I have frequently been tempted to throw myself. Amidst the extremes in weight loss and weight gain, digestive complications and accompanying physical pain, nutrient deficiencies, extreme fatigue, and thyroid issues that have vacillated between both hypo- and hyper- with some antibodies thrown in for variety, there were days I desperately wished to trade in this tired old body for a new and improved model. But I continually and repeatedly bumped up against the fact that I was stuck with the body I had, woefully in spite of every attempt I made to improve it. That’s how I thought of it: stuck.

I have yet to find adjectives to describe adequately what this experience was. Frustrating. You bet! Infuriating. For sure! Powerless. Certainly. Empty. Yep, that too! Betrayed. Oh, yes. Mix them all together into one large, unruly, and homogeneous lump, then amp up the volume. That's kind of what it was like.

While I am [mostly] better these days, I still have a few lingering issues that my body seems perfectly content to hang onto, but which still have me scouring the internet from time to time in a frantic search for any possible remedy I might not have yet tried. For the record, I’ve only found one remedy I’m not willing to try. If I told you what it was, I would bet my next paycheck (heck, why not the next 10 paychecks?) that you wouldn’t try it either, no matter how dire the particular ailment. As a result, I find myself toting around a few extra pounds around my midsection that I had gotten accustomed to going without.

And I’ll be honest: I don’t like it. This is where people will typically interject, But you look good! If appearance were all this was about (it is a factor for me, but not the whole story), I could probably become content with that. In my mind, however, I’m still in earnest pursuit of good health, the perfect kind of health I enjoyed all too briefly but left me a little over a year ago.

I still miss it. And frequently, the frustration at its loss becomes consuming. I’ve learned that given my appearance, most people will roll their eyes and groan if I let loose that things aren’t as I’d like them to be. Should I allow the frustration bubbling beneath my sweaty, fresh-from-the-gym surface to escape, I am almost certain to receive the requisite groan and eye-roll.

I don’t want to hear it. What are you and your little size X butt whining about, anyway?

And I understand where they’re coming from. But like many women, I also do daily battle with certain aspects of my appearance and inwardly loathe the ailments that I believe are at the root of them. I look at the other women at the gym and envy their slim arms and fuller chests, their flat bellies and the tiny waists that look as though they were carved from marble. There are times that I’m so caught up in my own battle that it baffles me utterly to realize that others might view me with similar envy. But then I look at those women and imagine saying to them: I don’t want to hear it. What are you and your little size X butt whining about, anyway? and I wonder if they have stories that are anything like mine.

I remember when I was still in the thick of the worst of my illness. I constantly felt sharp, stabbing pains in my stomach. I was in the middle of the elimination diet. I constantly had something my naturopath referred to as leaky gut, which is every bit as unpleasant as it sounds. I was fatigued no matter how much I slept, oftentimes passing out on the couch before 7 p.m. and not waking up until it was time for work the next day. I was severely anemic, had a diminished red blood cell count, and with sadly subpar adrenal gland function, felt like a zombie. My calcium and vitamin D levels were ridiculously low. And I had an underactive thyroid to boot. I was miserable.

I remember being at the gym once at this point in time (trying desperately to maintain some semblance of my normal life), coming slowly down the stairs one leaden leg at a time. I saw two women near the water fountain who were leaning in their heads toward one another, chatting animatedly and looking my way. As I made my way toward the fountain to fill by blue Nalgene bottle, I learned that I had been their topic of discussion, specifically my recent and very noticeable weight loss.

We’ve just noticed how much thinner you’ve gotten. You look fantastic! What’s your secret?

I gave them the Reader’s Digest, large-print edition version of what my weight loss “secret” was. In broad strokes, I described incessant stomach pain, constant fatigue and sluggishness, a variety of deficiencies and bodily malfunctions, and a severely restricted diet.

Oooh, that sounds awful, one of the women said. I could never go without bread or cheese!


But you look fantastic!

I was concurrently profoundly disgusted and inexplicably sad. It hit me all at once: the way I had viewed skinny women, the deep wrongness of the mindset that thinness is desired at any cost, and just how much I had missed (and still miss) the point.

To be continued …

mirror self-portrait by kirsten.michelle


  1. It's sad how we've limited our definition of physical wholeness to how we look (and a specific look, at that).
    And yet, I fall into the same trap. Minor example: my jeans have been getting tighter. Ack! I thought! Until I discovered I'm building muscle and burning fat. The tightness comes from being in better shape.
    You've been through a hard journey, and I have a feeling that in the new earth with our glorified bodies, you'll be dancing harder than anyone. I pray God gives you a glimpse of that in the here and now.

  2. Wow, Heather. I love that image you shared there about Kirsten dancing harder than anyone with her glorified new body. That image makes me glad.

    Well, my friend ... what a journey you have traveled and continue to travel still. I'm curious to learn where this series will lead. Goodness knows you have much to offer all of us about body talk and body relations, given your journey that you've overviewed here. I'm glad I have a front-row seat to your continually unfolding life.

    Love you.

  3. There is always more to the story. More, even, than we, the main players, know. Reminds me of that old koan of the farmer whose horses ran away. Poor farmer. Then they came back with wild ones in tow. Lucky farmer. Then the farmer's son broke his leg training the mustangs. Poor farmer. Then there was a war and the son didn't get drafted because of the leg. Lucky farmer. Maybe we'll never know the balance of luck and unluck, but I love your attitude of accepting what is even while fighting for a better way. Blessings....

  4. thank you for the love here, friends.

    heather, i think you're right. i'll be dancing pretty dang hard at any new earth/resurrection party.

    christianne, it is amazing to me how this journey continues to evolve and unfold. i can't help but think of the image of the spiral that you shared with me and it is so appropriate for these lessons. love you!

    joelle, i love the analogy you share. lucky/unlucky depending on your point of view, and maybe we'll never know. maybe we have to choose which one it is, after all.

  5. I read this yesterday but I didn't know what to say in response. I couldn't, however, stop talking about it...I kept thinking about and telling the story of my friend who lost weight because she was sick and had people telling her how good she looked even after they heard about the illness and we talked about mixed messages and culture and how it's all wrapped up in confusion and it was good.

    I love it when words do that, when they inspire me to talk about things and think about changes and all of that, and yours did that for me, yesterday.

    Also, love the image of Kirsten dancing...Par-tay at Kirsten's mansion!!!

  6. I came across something the other day that struck me really profoundly on this issue. It's a poem by John O'Donohue. I'll print it out here, but the form might be off a little because of the limitations of this space. If you really want to be blown away, go to speakingoffaith.org and find the audio file. The poet is Irish, and his speaking voice is amazing...

    A Blessing for a Friend on the Arrival of Illness
    by John O'Donohue

    Now is the time of dark invitation
    beyond a frontier that you did not expect.
    Abruptly your old life seems distant.
    You barely noticed how each day opened
    a path through fields never questioned
    yet expected deep down to hold treasure.

    Now your time on earth becomes full of threat.
    Before your eyes your future shrinks.
    You lived absorbed in the day to day so continuous
    with everything around you that you could forget
    you were separate.

    Now this dark companion has come between you.
    Distances have opened in your eyes.
    You feel that against your will
    A stranger has married your heart.
    Nothing before has made you feel so isolated
    and lost.

    When the reverberations of shock subside in you,
    may grace come to restore you to balance.
    May it shape a new space in your heart
    to embrace this illness as a teacher
    who has come to open your life to new worlds.
    May you find in yourself a courageous hospitality
    towards what is difficult, painful and unknown.

    May you use this illness as a lantern
    to illuminate the new qualities that will emerge in you.
    May your fragile harvesting of this slow light help you
    release whatever has become false in you.
    May you trust this light to clear a path
    through all the fog of old unease and anxiety
    until you feel arising within you,
    a tranquility profound enough to call the storm to stillness.

    May you find the wisdom to listen to your illness,
    ask it why it came,
    why it chose your friendship,
    where it wants to take you,
    what it wants you to know,
    what quality of space it wants to create in you,
    what you need to learn to become more fully yourself,
    that your presence may shine in the world.

    May you keep faith with your body,
    learning to see it as a holy sanctuary
    which can bring this night wound
    gradually towards the healing and freedom of dawn.

  7. That is a beautiful poem, Terri. I didn't think I could love John O'Donohue even more, but now I do.

    Sarah, what a great story about how this post affected you enough to show up in conversations throughout the day! So cool. Thanks for sharing that.

    Okay, now that I feel semi-self-conscious responding to people on YOUR comment section . . . ! :)