Bodies, rest and motion
This was intended to be a blog about exercise, fitness and health but became more about self-image, weight and body philosophy. It is about MY body and MY perception of it. I am not preaching to anyone else about what size they should be or how they should feel about themselves.
One of the things I miss the most from my pre-M.E. life is being able to exercise. I was always a very active person and really enjoyed lifting weights at the gym, mountain biking or even just going for long walks with my husband late at night. It was a strange little ritual of ours…walking for miles in the dark, talking about anything and everything, planning for the future. Looking back, those walks embody some of my favourite memories.
I did quite a bit of sport when I was at school, so getting a kick out of physical activity always felt like a normal part of life for me, pretty much for as long as I can remember. I’m not a competitive person and never have been, so sport was always just something I did for enjoyment. Even though I did compete (I played in hockey matches and did gymnastics competitions…and won stuff, which always surprised me!), it was just a kind of by-product of doing activities that I really enjoyed.
I had an eating disorder when I was younger, so my perception of health and body image was a bit out of whack for a while, but recovering from that gave me a newly found respect for my body…after all, I’d put it through a lot and it was still around! In my adult life, exercising was something to revel in and physical strength and fitness were things to celebrate. I stopped weighing myself and instead focused on how I looked, how my clothes fit and most importantly, how I felt. And it was good.
Sadly, this part of my life was absolutely turned upside down when I became ill. My ability to move around varies wildly from month to month but most of the time, doing anything that causes me to break a sweat or puts any particular strain on my muscles or joints will result in numerous days (at least) of pain and severe exhaustion afterwards. For a while, when I was going through my “If I ignore the fact that I’m sick then I will not be sick” denial phase, I tried so hard to just keep doing what I’d been doing before. Needless to say, it did not work. I’m a stubborn monster, so it took a while to accept that things had to change but accepting this was an important step for me to take.
I think the hardest thing was losing control over the way my body, and to some degree, my face (because weight gain and an enforced change in lifestyle will also affect your face) looked. Ask anyone who has had an eating disorder if they ever fully get over it and I’m pretty sure the answer will be no. Sure, you can eat like a healthy person and get back to a normal weight and stop obsessing over numbers (or, if you can’t stop obsessing over numbers, simply stop weighing and measuring everything) but in the back of your mind the irrational little nagging voice still lurks from time to time.
When I was in treatment for my eating disorder (ED-NOS, if you’re interested – I restricted, purged and compulsively exercised so didn’t fit into any neat little boxes) I remember telling my doctor that I thought I could stay healthy as long as I didn’t put on too much weight or get (horror of horrors!) FAT. So imagine my joy when, a few years later, my body said a big loud “Screw you!”, got sick and got FAT. Ok, not fat in capital letters. But a lot bigger than I was comfortable with. I went from a curvy and toned UK size 10-12 to a size 16. You would not believe how much strength it took to type that here and put it in a public place.
And for the first time in my life, regulating the shape of my body was pretty much completely outside of my control (there’s an eating-disordered-person nightmare for you!). I could eat healthily, but I couldn’t exercise. Part of my delightful M.E. journey was to have severe allergic reactions to still-unidentified things, which required spending some time munching on prescription steroid pills, resulting in more weight gain and, most horribly of all, my face becoming a rounder, softer, less-defined version of itself.
A few years ago, either because of or randomly coinciding with, taking amitriptyline for the first time, I had a temporary remission of many of my symptoms and I was able to go for walks again and lost a couple of dress sizes. It was awesome, but sadly it didn’t last. I have no idea why it happened or why it stopped…just another mystery that will probably never be solved. Needless to say, the weight I lost while I was able to go for walks came back within a few months.
If you’re one of those people who believes that everyone should always feel beautiful no matter what or likes to dole out platitudes about size not mattering, you should probably stop reading now if you haven’t already. I’m not saying that I no longer have attractive qualities or never look good, or that beauty is inextricably tied to the size of a person’s body, but the fact remains that I do not feel comfortable at the size I am and I much preferred the way I looked at a smaller size. It just suited me better, the way purple hair suits me better than brown hair. While I understand there’s nothing productive about pining for the past or stressing over things that, at the moment, I can’t really change, I have also accepted that it’s actually ok that I’m not completely at one with the way I look right now and that it is not a permanent state of being.
I eat healthily and I do a series of stretches and movements every day (a combination of physio exercises and gymnastics warm-ups) to help keep my body as supple as possible. I do more strenuous things, within reason, when I’m able to. I still go for walks when I can, even if they’re short walks. I wear make-up and paint my nails and obsess more than a little over the ever-changing colour of my hair. I have adapted my style of dressing to suit the current shape of my body.
Most importantly, I recognise that feeling guilty for not being 100% happy with the way I look is completely counter-productive. I have worked hard to come to terms with the fact that in spite of my ongoing efforts to be as healthy as I can be within the constraints of this illness, I simply cannot possess the body I want right now. The muscles are still there. They’re just hidden under a squishy layer. And while it makes me feel sad and frustrated at times, it’s not the end of the world.
I know I’m kind of letting the side down here. I know I should probably love my body no matter what! and embrace my curves! (note: I had curves when I was a size 6, curvy and fat are not the same thing) and celebrate my feminine beauty!, but shoving those concepts down people’s throats is just as damaging as telling people that the only way to be attractive is to be skinny. The way I feel about myself is mine and mine alone. It is not about what size anyone else is, what models in magazines or actresses in films look like or what anyone else thinks about the way I look. It is about me and my body and my mind, and I take full responsibility for and ownership of those things.
Posted on January 11, 2013, in M.E., Philosophy and tagged body image, body size, chronic illness, eating disorder, ed-nos, fitness, health, living with M.E., M.E., ME/CFS, self-esteem, weight, weight gain. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.