Me, My Body, and Relationship Counseling

love-tummyMy body and I used to have a seriously bad relationship, and looking back it’s not that surprising. I grew up the daughter of a Marine and a multi-sport athlete. If I fell and ran to my father, I could expect to hear “Are you hurt or are you injured?” Hurt meant that it was time to suck it up; injured meant you were going to the doctor. He, along with coaches and dance teachers told me to “walk it off”, “play through the pain” and that “pain is fear leaving the body.”

I was told over and over again that my body was just a limitation to be overcome through mental toughness  – blocking out or working through the pain. It didn’t come naturally at first – I seemed to have an innate sense that my body deserved better than that, but at some point I turned a corner and got really good at thinking of my body as something separate, and something to be ignored.

I worked through stress fractures, and an IT band so tight it felt like it was going to rip in half, pulled muscles, sprains, strains, jammed fingers, knee injuries and a host of other issues. I ignored my body when it asked for food and hydration, and I scoffed at it when it asked for rest.

I became a compulsive exerciser and I started to look down on my body even more. I refused to give it what it needed and pushed it beyond reasonable, and then unreasonable, limits.  When my body would finally bend or break under the strain, I treated it with utter contempt. I believed that my body was just a “meat sack,”  a collection of muscles and bones that were trying to limit what I could do. I believed that my mind had to be stronger than my body and I felt triumphant when I ignored my body’s signals and “pushed through.”

If I ever had an acquaintance who treated me the way that I treated my body for all those years, I would never speak to them again. In fact, I would never have let it go on that long. But through all of this my body stuck with me (even though I wasn’t giving it the food, hydration, or rest it needed), my body continued to support me. It never gave up on me. If my body could talk, all it would have said for years would have probably be something like “&$*#(*@ *$*&*#(*$  and for the love of pete can we please take a nap?!” but I wouldn’t have listened.

We live in a culture that preaches that our bodies are limitations. I still think of my body as something separate (and I know and honor those for whom that doesn’t work.)  But it’s different now –  I consider my body is a cherished friend.  Think of everything your body does for you without you even asking: breathing, blinking, heart beating… every cell in your body is getting blood right now and you’re not even thinking about it.

I don’t know about you, but there are days when I am too distracted to focus on a game of solitaire. I’m pretty sure that  if I was consciously in charge of breathing and blinking and heart beat I would have been dead in middle school when I got my first Walkman and regularly walked into stuff because I was so into the soundtrack of A Chorus Line.

I’m not saying that pushing your body is always wrong, you have to decide what works for you. I know I’ve danced through plenty of injuries. What I’m suggesting is that you consider treating your body like you would treat a friend.  I can’t even count the things that my best friend has done for me, even though he might rather have been doing something else (hello marathon!) because he’s my best friend and he loves me and I asked. It’s the same with my body.

I’m privileged to be temporarily able-bodied and I learned more about that when I had a neck injury last year and lost the use of my right arm for almost three months.  I learned that even if my body has limitations, that doesn’t make my body a limitation and that I worked best when it was me and my body against a problem, and not me against my body. I don’t know what is in the future for me and my body and like any relationship, my body and I have to keep up the communication and we have breakdowns, but we’ve come a long way since our days of giving each other the silent treatment, and I’m feel like our relationship is healthier than it’s ever been.

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16 thoughts on “Me, My Body, and Relationship Counseling

  1. I walked alot of the same path as your story in regard to being ‘against’ my body. I’m trying every day to treat it like a cherished friend and not be harsh to it.

  2. We really are encouraged every day to think of our bodies as something separate from ourselves. And that doubles down if we’re fat. How often have you heard that old nonsensical saw about how inside every fat person there’s a thin person trying to get out? It’s such a popular trope that Terry Pratchett included it as a literal fact about a fat character in one of his novels… of course, that thin person wasn’t a very nice one, as I recall.

    And how often in sic-fi books/shows/films do we see some race that has ‘evolved beyond the need for a physical body’ and is now disembodied energy? It’s always portrayed as better than having a physical form.

    Frankly, I like having a physical form. I like eating and drinking and moving and breathing and touching things. I don’t mind burping and farting and having to pee now and again. Okay, not wild about vomiting and the misery of pulled muscles and dealing with bad head colds and such… but I think the negatives are more than made up for by the ability to enjoy a slice of fresh-baked bread, to run my fingers through a cat’s fur, to laugh and to sing and to argue, to have sex.

    I love my intellectual pleasures, but at heart I am a sensualist in the most basic sense of the word. I couldn’t be that without my body. I couldn’t be me without this specific body.

    I am my body. My body is me. I absolutely reject any philosophy which attempts to divide us.

    But you know what? I’ve known since I was a small child that I was swimming against the tide of my entire culture on that one.

    1. “the ability to enjoy a slice of fresh-baked bread, to run my fingers through a cat’s fur, to laugh and to sing and to argue, to have sex.
      I love my intellectual pleasures, but at heart I am a sensualist in the most basic sense of the word. I couldn’t be that without my body. I couldn’t be me without this specific body.”

      Beautiful. I love that. Just beautiful.

    2. As a fan of Terry Pratchett I must insist to place the quotation in its full context. He stated, that “according to those who are inclined to casual cruelty, is that: >Inside a fat girl there is a thin girl and a lot of chocolate. Agnes’s thin girl was Perdita.<"
      So do not blame T.P. for mindless using of this awful stereotype! His fat characters are the best in fantasy literature, and absolutely not in a contex of losing weight or "promoting obesity! Agnes Nitt, Nanny Ogg, Fred Colon, Glenda Sugarbean, lady Sybil, all the wizards from Unseen University and many others are full of life, awesome individuals, whose fatness is only one of their features, but contributng to who they are.
      I recommend his books to all devoted to fat acceptance – plus a huge bonus of fun and reflection.

      1. I wasn’t actually trying to say that Terry Pratchett writes negative fat characters as a rule, though I can see how one might get there, but simply noting the trope is so common I’ve actually seen it specifically written about a fat character in a novel. And as I noted, the thin girl waiting to get out wasn’t a very nice one.

        As it happens, my grandmother was Granny Weatherwax and my great aunt was Nanny Ogg. Okay, those weren’t their actual names and they didn’t do any supernatural magic, but I recognized them and their relationship the instant I read my first Witch book. The existence of Nanny Ogg makes me very happy, and I hope one day to grow up to be her, myself.

  3. “Pain is fear leaving the body”? That has to be one of the most toxic things I’ve ever heard. Years ago, before my gender transition was even a thought, I was kicked in the crotch at karate class. The pain had nothing to do with fear.

    Wow, that’s what some people consider to be motivating? No wonder I gave up on sports so quickly as a kid.


  4. Ragen, thank you so much for writing this. I have been thinking for weeks now about posting, because as much as I love reading your blog and seeing how beautiful you are with your agility and grace, it’s also consistently made me sad to think “But where am I in this?”

    I am fat. I am also *not* healthy. I have high cholesterol, high glucose levels, high triglycerides. I’m 58 years old, diagnosed 4 years ago with cardiomyopathy (a serious form of congestive heart failure), nearly died from that, underwent surgery to implant a state-of-the-art biventricular pacemaker that has kept me alive but left me sick and tired all the time, take handfuls of medication that have added 30 pounds to my already hefty weight. I hurt ALL THE TIME. My feet hurt, my legs hurt, my hips hurt, my hands are twisted with arthritis, one of the medications I have to take for my heart has given me gout so now I have to take another medication for that … And every time I read about HAES I just almost want to cry, because since my heart diagnosis I have been eating extremely healthily, walking 30 minutes a day despite how much it hurts to walk, and yet I see no improvement. I’m still in pain all the time, still tired all the time, still short of breath and just exhausted.

    There are times when I find myself wishing that I’d just gone ahead and refused the pacemaker back in 2011, and died by 2013 (which was my prognosis). Not really, I guess … I guess I still want to be alive. But it is SO HARD when I’m sick all the time, tired all the time, in pain all the time, and I know that my friends and even family look at me and think “if you’d just lose the weight you’d feel better.” In fact, that’s not true — my heart condition has nothing to do with weight, and thank goodness I have a great cardiologist who knows that. But it is so wearing, and so painful, to know that people who know I’ve got serious heart troubles look at me and think “well, you brought it on yourself.” I didn’t (and of course, even if I had, SO WHAT?)

    It is so hard not to hate my body, not to berate it for causing me so much grief. It’s even harder because (like anyone with congestive heart failure) I have to weigh myself every day. Daily weigh-ins are the first line of defense against dangerous flare-ups of the disease — if my weight goes up 2 or more pounds overnight, that means I’m retaining fluid and need to call my cardiologist ASAP. But as anyone who’s ever had an eating disorder knows, it’s really, really hard to weigh in every day and not obsess over the numbers. I try so hard — I weigh more now than I ever have in my life and I try to tell myself JUST to look at whether I’ve gained since yesterday and to think about my heart, and NOT to think “OH MY GOD, I weigh 232 pounds!!” But it’s so, so hard.

    And after so many years of weight cycling, losing and gaining over and over, I know that in fact I MAY have brought this on myself, although not in the way smug onlookers think. But I may very well have damaged my heart muscle by all that yo-yoing. In which case I did this to myself–this pain, and fatigue, and shortened lifespan. It’s hard to forgive myself for that and it’s hard to forgive my body for getting so sick. And it’s hard not to hate being fat.

    Sorry for the rant, but thanks to all of you for listening. There’s nowhere and no-one else in the world I can say all of this to.

    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to send this response. Congratulations, too, on all your hard work.
      You write, ” It’s hard to forgive myself for that and it’s hard to forgive my body for getting so sick.”
      I relate to all of those. Many years ago certain of my behaviors led me to a place of a lot of mental suffering. At the time, I didn’t see the connection (much less my role); when I did, I felt such remorse, shame, and self-loathing. That was very difficult. I can’t say I’ve forgiven myself, but I have accepted the harm I caused myself–and am doing what I can to give myself a healthy life *today*. That’s the best I can do (and I think the only thing I can do).
      I wish you the best.

    2. Forgive yourself? For what? You did not do anything bad or evil. Everyone is trying to live their lives as good as they can. We are not perfect, we are just as good as we can and we all make mistakes. And even if we follow all the rules of “healthy living”, there is no guarantee of freedom from health problems. It is just statistics. Please, do not waste your precious energy for blaming yourself or thinking in good-bad way, but focus on taking care of your body and mind. Wishing you strength and all the best 🙂

    3. I just wanted to say that your comment touched me very deeply. I don’t have any wise words of encouragement or advice; just sending you support and hugs and good wishes from across the interwebs. ❤

      1. Thanks for these responses. It really helps to be able to say these things. Interwebs hugs right back to all of you.

  5. I love this post, and I also really love the one that you linked to (Seeing My Body as Separate)–I hadn’t read it before and it is beautiful. I will say–and I noticed this in the comments–that chronic illness complicates the body love thing.

    For example, the car analogy doesn’t work so well for me, because I’ll treat my car well, but if it has too many problems and gets too expensive to fix, it’ll go to the junkyard, and I’ll have to get a different one. It doesn’t quite work that way with bodies–you’re stuck with it even when it “breaks down.”

    I think I always sort of thought of my body as a “shell” for my soul because I was raised in a religious household, but I didn’t actually hate it until I started having health problems in high school. I was never an athletic person, but I had always been able to do what I enjoyed. When the health problems started my joints were so bad that I couldn’t walk or climb stairs without a lot of pain. When I took medication for the pain (Vioxx, until it lost FDA approval), I had lots of stomach pain. Then I had gallbladder disease, and got really sick from almost everything. I was also dealing with the symptoms of PCOS, though I wasn’t diagnosed until age 18. I also had lots of fatigue, and would sometimes sleep 20 hours per day. I missed a lot of school and developed major depression. During all of this, I felt utterly betrayed by my body. I had never really pushed it or neglected it (knowingly), but it “broke down” anyhow.

    Since the health problems started, I HAVE pushed my body. But not usually while trying to be excellent; I just want to be normal. It is so hard not to function at the same level as everyone else. I’m actually fairly healthy now; I’m pain-free, though I still struggle with fatigue and depression, and I seem to get sick easily and take a long time to get better (probably because I take an immunosuppressant).

    The point I’m at now (thanks to counseling) is that I can forgive my brain for not always being able to overcome by body’s failings, and I can feel proud of myself for achieving some awesome things despite my body being an obstacle. I know that I need to take another step, and separate the illness from my body….but this is extremely hard when it’s an autoimmune disease that is probably genetic.

    Or maybe I can just hate some parts of body, and love others…and try to focus on the parts I love. After all, with people, there are sometimes parts of their personalities that we love, and parts that we REALLY dislike.

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