• Wednesday, 19 April 2017

    Loving Your Body When It's Let You Down

    When I was twenty years old, I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis. Which if you've been reading this blog or following me on Twitter for longer than five minutes, you probably already knew. It took three years of pain, confusion and frustration to get to that diagnosis. For those of you that don't know (and feel free to skip ahead if you do), colitis is a form of inflammatory bowel disease, similar to chrons disease. Other than the obvious digestive problems it causes, it brings with it extreme stomach pain, malnutrition, insomnia, joint paint and exhaustion. And that's without all the strange reactions I've had to various medications. Nobody quite knows why it happens, but we do know there isn't a cure yet. Symptoms and severity of them vary from person to person, there are people who have it much worse than I do and people who handle it much more easily.
    Even more recently I was referred to a rheumatologist. I've been having terrible pains all over my body lately which may or may not be related to my colitis. There's a possibility I'm about to be diagnosed with fibromyalgia or arthritis; both also quite scary illnesses. My GP gave me some pretty strong pain killers to keep me going and they seem to be doing some good.

    As I write this I can feel my knuckle joints tensing up over the keyboard. Every morning my whole body has been tense and stiff, my back, my legs and my shoulders suffer most. My stomach's been playing up a lot lately, which keeps me chained to a nearby bathroom and makes travel an extremely anxiety filled experience. My energy levels have been so poor that I have spent a whole days in bed and still felt tired the next day. My stomach bloats frequently, I've gained weight from steroid treatments and lost weight during flare ups. My appetite changes rapidly and unknown foods cause extreme pain. My body is not what it once was, it doesn't feel like mine. It's beyond my control.
    Very recently, I worked on an event I was really excited about. I had been involved in the planning for months, working all hours and tweeting obsessively about it. The event day came around, set up went well, doors opened and everything went smoothly. It got to half past eleven and I felt my body give up. I had been kind to myself, the group I was working with are very understanding, wonderful people who insisted I didn't overdo it. I didn't do too much heavy lifting and I managed to sit down when I needed to. But still, I had to leave early. I ordered an Uber and went home and cried over a late night Dominoes in bed.

    I was so frustrated. I had pulled off a project I was so passionate about. I had stood up in front of a hundred and fifty people and talked confidently about why this event was important. I had run two separate workshops that were planned in three days due to a last minute drop out. I had met lots of ace new people, I had received excellent feedback, I had achieved something pretty damn cool. But my body had massively let me down. Granted, leaving half an hour early is really not that big a punishment, but this is the latest event in a series of great nights that I've been so preoccupied with my health, or been so tired that I've missed out.
    Friends that have met me in recent years would probably tell you I'm not much of a party-goer. They'd tell you I don't like to dance or stay out too late and that I always wear sensible-ish shoes. And they're right, that's who I am now. But friends that have known me longer will tell you stories of late nights and dancing through the streets and other things that are probably a little too shameful to put on the internet. Not only does my body let me down regularly, it lets down my friends too. Or it certainly feels like it.

    This all being said I'm passionate about seeing a world where everybody loves and accepts their own body. I've been involved in body positivity campaigns on several occasions, worked as a plus-size model and spend a great deal of time worrying about what my nine year old niece is learning about body image. I want to love and accept they way I am more than anything. I'd like to be my body's friend. I'd like to care about myself enough to eat properly, to exercise well, to sleep when I need it and to not beat myself up when I don't do those things. I want to know and understand my body's limits and not to fight with myself when I've reached them. I want to be unapologetic about essential self-care.

    I do not write this post to throw myself a pity party. I know that there are people much worse off than me, as a hospital regular, I see them clearly for myself (FYI, telling ill people that people have it much worse off than them so they shouldn't complain is a really mean thing to do). I write it as therapy, I write it as a promise to myself, I write it in sympathy and empathy for all of those suffering from chronic illness. For all of those with me that fight daily to not let their weak bodies define them, I salute you, my fellow warriors. Your body is yours and it's the only one we'll ever have, so it's about time we learnt to live with it. Even if loving it is a far way off.

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