I have started off 2018 pretty much the same way I finished...trying to catch up. And one of the things that I have prioritized in my catch up world are podcasts. I love listening to them as I commute to work and if you have read this blog in the past you have heard me randomly discuss some. I actually listen to the them at 1.5x speed so I can through them faster...(honestly I was listening at 1.5x forever before I realized I was doing that..I thought it was odd that people talked so fast but got used to it). And it was pounding through all the Body Kindness Podcasts from November 1 until now that I got inspired to write this.
Body Kindness Podcast is hosted by Rebecca Scritchfield, RDN(she's awesome sauce!) who is also the author of "The Body Kindness Book", which I can't recommend enough for people looking to build a more positive relationship with food and their bodies. Anyways I have been listening to this podcast for about a year now- I really enjoy it- and starting in August (I think it was) she started having theme months. I listened to all of "Body Betrayal" theme month in a row and the collection resonated with me more than any collection of podcasts ever had. So I decided to be brave (continuing this bravery thing from last year....so much more to be brave about I think) and write about my own body betrayal and how it shaped my life in such a profound way that I would never wish my life without it.
I have written about having Crohn's disease in the past yet I don't think I have ever written about how I viewed my body, my relationship with food and my life with a chronic illness that people can't see. So here it is...how I got angry with my body but found a peace and a fire that I am not sure I would have ever found otherwise.
I was diagnosed at the age of 20yrs old. At the time I was finally diagnosed I had been symptomatic for about 5 years. Even though I knew about Crohn's disease- my Granma Kay had it as well- nobody really thought that is what was wrong with me. As an anxious teenager my stomach issues were put down to a nervous stomach or avoiding helping with the dishes after dinner. I didn't realize that most people didn't need to have a bowel movement after each time they ate anything or that my tummy filling up with air to the point of stabbing pain was that odd. When I was finally diagnosed there was an inflammatory mass in my small intestine so large I was having difficulty bending over to put on my socks. It was so bad that the tech that was doing by very first barium x-ray said "Dear you need to take your Chron's meds everyday, its not looking good" when my response was "huh...I don't have that" I was marched directly down the hall by the tech through the waiting room and presented to my new Gastroenterologist who I had yet to meet because I was just doing the initial workup for him. I remember asking why did I have to get to this point before anyone looked at this...my doctors response "You haven't lost weight". He went on to explain that many doctors wouldn't investigate this because dramatic weight loss is often seen and I didn't have that. My weight had been pretty stable for the last couple years hence why the medical community thought it was my mental health not my GI health. I remember being angry. Nobody believed me because I didn't look "sick". This is when the roots for Health at Every Size started for me even when I didn't know it existed....but it still took time. I was too angry. I was angry that I had a body that attacked itself. I had an immune system that couldn't tell invaders from normal healthy cells. How the hell did that even happen. That winter everyone kept talking about boasting their immune system and I was thinking how do I kill mine??? My body let me down. I was just 20. I was young. I still had so many things I wanted to do and none of them included waiting in doctors waiting rooms for more tests or appointments or contemplating having parts of my intestines removed or a colostomy! I wanted to do stupid stuff like get drunk at a club or buy stupid expensive shoes or stay in bed and read all day. But my body hated itself and in turn I hated it. I was self conscious to go out because I often needed to go the bathroom- I used to joke that I knew every public bathroom in a 100km radius. Slowly though something changed. My "f' you" attitude moved to my body. Two years after diagnosis I started university for nutrition (which I always feel the need to say I never wanted to do it because of my disease I had wanted to become an RD long before) even though my doctor said they stress would not help me be well. I pushed on. During 2nd semester of 2nd year I had 3 feet of my small intestine removed, didn't drop out of school and managed 2 courses through this time. I was starting to rebuild my relationship with myself. If I did what I needed to do to stay well (my version of well) then I could pursue all the things I wanted. It was after my surgery that I was again struck by peoples odd perception of bodies. About 6 weeks after my surgery- which left me with 36 staples down the front of my abdomen right down to my pubic bone and 30lbs less that my admission weight I was out shopping for new pants. Waistbands hurt so I was looking for overalls (It was 2002 so lets pretend they were cool then) when the woman helping me in the store made a comment that she would "kill to be thin like me" My body had just had organs removed but hey lets have that body! It was there...in the GAP...that I realized size does not equate health, happiness or anything else I had been sold. Fast forward a few more years, many ups and downs (almost 15 colonoscopies, 3 endoscopies, 6 CT scans, 3 MRI's and 3 dilations of my intestinal tract), my body had healed a huge incision but left a "beautifully healed scar" (every doctor tells me this...) and it had gotten me though university and internship...
As a dietitian I struggled with not eating the foods that I thought I was supposed to be recommending. I felt like a fraud working in an eating disorder program and needing to drink ensure because solid food caused too much pain to eat. My mom served me pureed versions of Christmas dinner because the fibre in the vegetables hurt. I ate white...white bread, white rice, white potatoes, french fries, boiled chicken breast. This was my life. I missed fruit! I dreamed of ceasar salad. And broccoli..let me tell you about broccoli...3x it has sent me to hospital with an obstruction because I ate it then ate more of it...and it got stuck. Who would ever want to work with a dietitian that lived on a steady stream of peanut butter sandwiches on white bread and pudding?!?! Yet again my body taught me. It taught me to enjoy food. I enjoyed the times of remission when I could eat an orange. It taught me to listen to my body. I learned that I could tolerate cooked vegetables and still eat a fruit at the same meal without pain. It taught me to slow down and taste my food and enjoy the sweet juice in a mango. It also taught me that my food choices, the ones that I made to make me feel good did not dictate how good I was as a human or a dietitian because I made these decisions to keep me well.
My body taught me empathy during this time, perseverance, strength and resilience. My body taught me to listen to the stories of others because we don't carry our stories on the outside they are inside sometimes buried very deep. My body taught me to show my scars- they are part of my story not something to be hidden but something to be proud of. My body grew 2 humans after being told it never would. It has run multiple half marathons after it was told it was too weak. It has gotten to through almost 40 years on this earth. My body taught me that everyone deserves to have a positive relationship with their bodies because it truly makes life worth living. It is the only body we get.
But my body decided I needed another lesson. The second body betrayal I felt was 3 years ago. I had worked on body positivity in my life and that of my clients. I was an anti-diet dietitian. I thought I would never hate my body again...but I did. It started with a few red rash like dots on my thighs, then spread up to my abdomen then down to my ankles, then up to my shoulders. I saw multiple doctors before I was diagnosed with auto-immune psoriasis. Yet again my body attacked itself. But this time it did it in a way the whole world could see...in August...when it was hot...and I was wearing shorts and tank tops. I had psoriasis covering almost 80% of my body. My face was spared but that was it. It was during this time that I experienced something that I had never experience in my life as a white thin female- people pointed at my body in disgust. Strangers made comments. I was asked if I should be in the park with my kids as I may infect others with my skin disease. It was at the high point of my body being covered that I took my kids to an indoor waterpark for a weekend. I overheard a woman say to another person while in line for a waterslide "does she not realize how gross her skin is, she should not wear a bikini". At first I looked around to see who she was talking about because I wanted to stand up for this person but then I realized it was me. People had been moving away from me all day. Moving chairs, stepping away in line, giving me a wide berth in the wave people. My kids who were 3 and 6 at the time actually noticed too! The sad part was is that I didn't stand up for me. I wasn't sure what to say. I wasn't sure what to do. I did nothing. But it was there. Surrounded by strangers that I moved into my next phase of work. I do not know what it is like to live in a larger body but my body taught me what it was like to live in a body that people thought was unclean, unhealthy and not good enough to be looked at. My body showed me what it is like to question whether your mental health can handle taking your body out in public. My body made me think about times when I didn't go in the pool at a pool party because I was embarrassed to expose my skin. My body gave me a tiny tiny glimpse into what it must be like to live in a marginalized body. Please do not misunderstand- I am very aware of my experience is not that of those that face shame and ridicule for just being born a certain colour or size or gender or ability- but it opened the blinds. It was this that has made me work on how we talk about bodies and present those bodies to others. It made me a fat advocate. It made me look at diet culture as a social justice issue.
My body didn't betray me...my body taught me. It has given me lessons that I am not sure I would have gotten anywhere else. It opened my eyes to biases that I had too much privilege to realize were there. It made me who I am. And for that I can only be grateful. Thank you body, my earth suit, for getting me through this world each and every day.
until next time be unapologetically you while I be unapologetically me.