My 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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