At War with My Body

Thursday, November 4, 2021

TW: chronic illness, infertility, weight

For a long time — since right after my spinal fusion surgery in seventh grade — I did not think of myself as a person with chronic pain. I thought everyone walked around in physical pain most of the time. It was only when I moved to Washington, D.C., after college that I learned that most people didn’t have the pain levels I had, that most people’s bodies didn’t hurt like mine did.

I hadn’t known. I thought it was normal. I knew mine was, perhaps, worse than others, but it never occurred to me that other people had no general pain.

I guess that’s because mine has simply always been there, & I’ve always just dealt with it — like the time my back hurt so badly for two weeks that I had to wear only sports bras & carry a wheeled suitcase to work… at age 23. But I’ve learned how to manage; I’ve always managed. You have to, don’t you? You only get one body, & so you do with it what can. You adapt. You figure out how to function best with what you’re given.

There have been other health issues, too, throughout the years. “You seem to have trouble living,” my friend Micaela once joked, & though she later told me she felt terrible about wording it that way, honestly, it has always resonated with me. I do have some trouble living. Things are hard for me that aren’t always hard for other people. But I look “normal,” like a person who shouldn’t have trouble living, & so it always takes people by surprise. It makes them think I’m neurotic, a hypochondriac, dramatic, have a low tolerance for pain.

I wish they could feel, just for a few moments, what it’s like, sometimes, to live in my body. I don’t think they would think that anymore. Something is always wrong, & I can’t seem to help it.

And now, it seems, there’s more wrong than ever.

My body is doing a lot of things it isn’t supposed to do — or, at least, things it has never done before.

It is only now that I have also started to self-identify as a person with chronic illness.

And I am so, so angry about it.

My back pain. My sleep disorder. My thyroid problem. My infertility. The after-effects of COVID-19. Are they all related? Does it matter?

And these problems are different from my chronic pain. Because that’s the thing about chronic pain — it is chronically painful. You can feel it. Deeply, always, & acutely. Chronic pain is there. It’s terrible, yes, but it doesn’t lurk beneath the surface. It presents itself up front: “Here I am,” it tells you. “Live with me.”

But these other health issues, these new things… I can’t see them. Sometimes, I can’t even feel them. They manifest in ways that I don’t immediately associate with illness, presenting themselves as upset stomachs and perpetual bloating, as acne & exhaustion, as irregular periods & muscle aches.

Or they don’t present themselves at all, except to cause silent devastation: infertility, my body’s refusal to do what cisgender women’s bodies were biologically made to do. Because I waited too long, I was too unsure, I was unsettled, I wasn’t ready — and now, I am too late, my body turned against me from the inside, waiting to reveal to me that it will not cooperate.

And then, of course, there’s the weight.

This year alone, I have gained so much weight — more than 20 lbs. And while it’s so easy for me to be body positive for everyone else, what about me? My internalized fatphobia is not willing to give the same grace to myself; my internalized fatphobia does not recognize logic or have compassion.

I wish I could explain to people, “It isn’t my fault! I have health conditions!” Hell, I wish I could explain that to myself. But who would that benefit? There is no “good fat” or “bad fat,” just fat, period, & I have to learn how to accept mine, how to live with mine, how to stop making excuses for mine — just like everything else my body does or doesn’t do. 

The truth, though, is that I am never not thinking about my body: about its pain, about its brokenness, about its size, about its overall inconvenience. When I do yoga with Chelsea Jackson Roberts & she says things like, “Thank this body for everything it’s done for you,” sometimes I cry. I forget to thank my body, most of the time, because it seems inconceivable that I could be happy with or appreciative of this faulty vessel.

I know that I am not the only one with a broken body. That my body is not even the most broken of them all — nowhere near it. I know that it could always be worse; that at some point, it may be. I know that I am still mobile & able & relatively young & even, from some perspectives, relatively healthy. I know there is so much for which to be grateful.

And yet, gratitude is so frequently so elusive. All I can think, most of the time, is that I wish I had had gratitude before, for the version of my body that I hated so much but which was so, so much “better” than the version I have now. That I wish I hadn’t taken for granted everything that that past version of my body could do that this one can’t — regulate itself, fit more comfortably into clothing, live without medication, have a baby.

I want to be grateful. But for now, all I feel is angry — angry at the loss of a body I didn’t know enough to love, didn’t care enough to appreciate, that I thought was flawed but that was infinitely less flawed than the version I live in now. Angry at the arrival of all these new ailments, all these new problems I cannot control or mitigate or force myself to heal from. Anger at who I lost & who I am, & then anger, too, at my inability to extricate who I am from what my body is.

I want to be grateful. But I have to learn how to stop being angry first.

3 comments:

Jane B said...

This really sucks. I know it’s completely trite to say- but I hope things on even just one of those fronts gets better somehow. Sending warm thoughts and vibes your way.

Marieka said...

I wish that I had the answer, but I don’t.

But you know what made me keep reading your blog after I happened upon it years ago, maybe even when you lived in NJ? It was your honesty and eloquence about hard things.

So thank you, Kate. May we all find peace with our bodies somehow, even despite all of the forces that make it so difficult.

Elisabeth said...

I have been battling my body lately, too. A chronic condition that has plagued me for exactly 20 years. I came home from another doctor's appointment yesterday with more questions than answers.

I've learned to manage and I have so much to be grateful for as, most of the time, I can function at most of the activities I want to. But it does get wearisome and I think your blog post title hits it on the head: I feel like I'm at WAR with my body.

Thanks for tackling such a tough subject with such grace. I hope things start to resolve and in the meantime, you find peace and rest and courage!

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