I thought we’d be at war forever. But now I have hope I’ll find body peace.
Now I see an alternative to hate. It’s not called love.
Maybe even friendship.
My body & Me
I’ve had a turbulent relationship with my body for as long as I remember. I learned what BMI is, in what, 5th grade. Learned that the lowest cut of point for healthy was 17.5*. I thought “great, this is what I should be”.
This is messed up and wrong on many levels, but we don’t have time to get into that now.
* The cutoff point is actually 18.5 [source] (though it’s more complicated for kids), but I remember specifically learning it was 17.5, because my BMI was 17.1 – and I thought that was too close to the limit (24-year old me finds this so fucked up).
Also, the health science student in me needs to add that BMI should never be used on pre-pubescent kids. It’s questionable whether it should be used on individuals at all.
What saved me, what kept me out of the sharp claws of a full-blown eating disorder (unlike a handful of my friends) was sport. Through sport (mainly football and running) I learned to see my body as an instrument rather than an ornament. Learned to appreciate my body for what it could do, rather than how it looked.
At least during the football season, I only focused on eating for performance – and enough to keep up with my high activity level.
I’ve received both positive and negative comments on my body so many times throughout my childhood (complimented for being thin, for my muscles – yet made fun of for my lack of boobs).
But it didn’t really matter to me (not that much at least). Because I loved sport, and my body is what made me good at it (also my self-esteem was so low I rarely believed the compliments).
When the instrument breaks
So guess what a happened when I lost that? When I first lost my ability to play football because of a bad knee injury? And even more so when I developed complex chronic pain condition – making even light physical activity a massive challenge.
In the past, I’ve worked on my relationship with my body, and was doing some deep personal exploration after gaining weight post knee injury.
There was good days and bad days. Especially as I got stronger through weight lifting, I felt great.
I didn’t achieve “loving my body” (not that’s even a thing you achieve and then “congratulations 🎉” – it’s a dynamic relationship that can change even then).
But I was on the road to something good – following lots of body positive instagrammers, and learning more about how the causal link between weight and health is incredibly misunderstood and overrated.
I felt comfortable taking pictures, I felt comfortable sharing some online – which for me personally, is a fairly good indicator of how I feel about myself.
When the pain invaded my life, all of that came crashing down.
If my body is an instrument now, it’s a shitty broken one.
Existing in a suffering body
I don’t know if you’ve ever felt the same.
I’m convinced it’s not exclusive to people with chronic pain – lots of people have never had good experiences with exercises. They’ve never felt what they’re body is capable of with a bit of practice. They find exercise uncomfortable.
Lots of people experience pain, whether that’s physical, mental or emotionally, it’s difficult to exist in a suffering body.
There’s sadly many further reasons why you could feel or been made to feel bad about your body.
I reached the point where I thought having good body image just wasn’t possible, because my body is broken. So much of the advice around improving it is shifting focus away from looks to performance. Meanwhile, I was in a situation where that made me feel even worse.
“Strong is the new skinny” – then where do I fit in?
My body is the last place I want to be – I spent so much time trying to distract myself from feeling it – mainly with food and Netflix. If I could get rid of my body, I would.
The experience that gave me hope
What has given me hope, is an experience I had a recent Monday. I don’t remember exactly when, just that it was Monday because that’s when I go to classes at the pain clinic.
We’re learning a lot there, about different ways to experience and live with pain. One of them is mindfulness meditations, including body scans.
Just the thought of doing a body scan (you know, where you slowly move your awareness through your body, listening to the different sensations) made me tense up.
I’ve tried it before. Still, I only knew two ways to experience my body: Pain or ignorance, distracting myself with mental stimuli. I preferred the latter whenever possible.
But this session was different. We spent two hours leading up to it, talking about mindfulness, and how to practice it when you’re in pain. This time was different.
When I walked the short distance from the mattress to my chair, I thought “Wow, I actually feel amazing”. Like my body was full of sunshine.
It didn’t last long. The pain came back. That, however, didn’t take away from the magic of the moment. I had felt good in my body.
The pillars of mindfulness
Mindfulness is not only good for learning to relate to physical pain in different way. The 7 pillars of mindfulness are
- Beginner’s mind (curiosity)
- Letting go – or allowing to be
– all done with kindness.
A side note: If you don’t know what mindfulness is, it’s not woo. It’s separate from religious and spiritual practices, and has solid base of scientific evidence behind it – they’d never teach it at the pain clinic if it wasn’t.
Also mindfulness can’t remove the pain, but it can help ease some of the suffering (like stress, anxiety and depression) that can accompany chronic pain, as well as learning to relate to your body in a more kind and constructive way.
Those concepts are not just helpful when it comes to pain. On top of applying to how it feels to be in your body, they can be applied to how you look at your body.
Approaching your body with a non-judgmental, non-striving attitude, allowing it to be as it is – hello better body image!
Looking towards the future
I haven’t completely overhauled my brain and thought patterns in a month. My body doesn’t feel like magic after every session. Sometimes it’s boring. Sometimes it sucks. But there’s little moments here and there, where I feel it. I instinctively know this is it. I’m on the right path.
Now I just need to stay patient, trust the process – and remember striving can be a hindrance, because it removes you from the here and now. And being aware of the here and now is like mindfulness’ whole thing!
There’s still moments where I’m upset by all the weight I’ve gained, the red stretch marks on my skin, the sound of seams ripping when I put on clothes, the curvature and softness of my belly. And then there’s the growing portion of moments where I know my body is okay just as it is. My body’s existence doesn’t need justification or to be hidden away. I am allowed to be – end of sentence.
And that’s the story of how I found hope.
I hope, wherever you are now, that you can find it too.
What does body peace look like for you?