It may be a little over optimistic to say that summer is in the way, but I think I can at least say that winter is over. Whilst I can’t wait to enjoy more lazy days in the sun, hot days always give me a moments pause.
The reason for my second guessing is our old friend shame. As much as strive I to love my body there are still so many people who’d rather I didn’t. My body does not fit societal standards of beauty. Scrap that, I don’t even fit societal standards of normal. The fact that I refuse to hide my fat, scarred flesh rocks the normality boat even more vigorously.
It has taken me years to be able to celebrate my form. My ability to wear whatever I please & shed layers in the heat is a hard win victory. I won’t lie I often still have to steel myself to step outside in a vest. Not because I feel ashamed of my a scars or my past or flab or peely wally complexion, but because there are tonnes of folk who really, really want me to.
Staring is a given. Staring combined with nudging a mate & directing them to also have a gawk is also fairly frequent. Less common, but still occuring more than you would think is the person who thinks they should actually comment on my body. Oh & I give them so much to work with. Strangers just love to get angry, sad, concerned and curious about my body. Sometimes I can just shrug that off. Often I will snark back & think these strangers pathetic. However, there are times when for whatever reason, I’m just not up for the judgement of unknown members of the general public. Their stares, nudges & comments ruin my day. I do momentarily feel ashamed and scared and like I should never leave the house again. And, my friends, is not ok.
So, here’s a little advice.
OTHER PEOPLE’S BODIES ARE NOT YOUR BUSINESS.
Your thoughts on other people’s appearance are not important. Strangers do not want to hear them. Your moral judgements are your problem, don’t make them anyone else’s. Likewise your hang ups.
STARING IS RUDE.
Always. There are no excuses. If you find yourself accidentally staring, stop. If you see someone you think looks weird, bad, crazy just remember plenty of people find your visuals unappetising too. Oh & don’t oggle them.
In short, don’t be that person. Don’t be the one who spoils someone’s lovely summer day. You do you & let the rest of world do them.
Nothing bad happened this week. No extra stressful event. No triggering sights or scents. In fact, it was quite nice. Easy weekend with my man. Luxuriously relaxing day with my sister. Words were flowing. I had nothing more taxing than baby shopping & light housework scheduled. All should have been well, but no one told my brain.
At some point on Monday night my head switched from calm to high alert. Try as I might I can not decipher why. I was one minute thinking about what colours to paint my nails & the next desperately trying to pinpoint my panic. It happens that fast. Like a storm cloud darkening the sky, my mood stiffens. Suddenly my only thought is why do I feel like something very, very bad is about to happen? All I can do is run through every aspect of my life & weigh up how likely disaster is. It doesn’t matter that my checks come up empty. That only makes the anxiety worse. Even If I can’t locate a likely impending crisis, I still feel on the verge of one. The disparity between my thought & feeling drives me crazy.
My body betrays me. It takes its queues from my beleaguered brain. Thus every gust of wind or car in the street sends my heart racing. I can’t relax. I can’t sit still. I can’t get anything done either. My head is too busy with the millions of terrible possibilities it has to discount. I can’t concentrate properly, so every task takes twice as long as it should. Or just doesn’t get done at all because you know, the post man came & I had to hide in my bedroom. What I was hiding from, I don’t know. I can’t think of a single scenario in which someone knocking on my door could realistically lead to a catastrophe. Nevertheless, I cower.
It’s exhausting and it is maddening. Free floating anxiety. I’m basically just fighting with my own stupid head. There is nothing to fear except fear itself. I think that phrase is supposed to comforting; not for me. Illogical, inexplicable fear itself is a formidable opponent. I’ll be ok. Can someone just please tell my brain.
About 7 months ago, after years many years of knee pain & a limp that had become almost permanent I had an X-ray that revealed arthritis. After even more pain & increasingly frequent falls my Dr recommend a walking stick.
I had been experiencing pain in my right knee for years. When I first mentioned it to a Gp he put it down to a small accident I had whilst playing with my niece. I had plenty going on health wise & at the time it wasn’t a constant or severe pain, so I left it at that. The knee got progressively worse & I mentioned it a few times to various gp’s but no one was worried & it got sidelined by more immediately pressing health issues. By the time I really couldn’t ignore it anymore I had been diagnosed with fibromyalgia. The knee pain was attributed to fibro & that was pretty much that. The pain however continued to get worse. It hurt all the time, standing or sitting. It even woke me in the night. Then came the swelling, then the limp shortly followed by the knee giving way & me falling on my arse more than once. Back to my Gp I went, but only to seek advice on what might help my knee; I believed it was fibro related. Finally, over four years later I was sent for an x-ray, which revealed significant erosion in my knee joint. I didn’t expect to have a condition like arthritis at 37 & I certainly never envisioned myself with a walking stick, but here I am.
There are so many things I could say about the difficulties of getting a diagnosis or even investigations when you have chronic conditions. So often when medical professionals see things like fibro in your notes they will just link everything to that. When you have multiple chronic conditions multiply the difficulty. Add to that mental health issues, being a woman, being fat, the drs who think everyone with chronic pain is drug seeking & honestly, I’m just exhausted. Yes, it could have been spotted sooner. Yes, I would probably have a better prognosis if it had, but at this stage I’m just too tired to even think about that. There isn’t anything that can done about it anyway. It is what it is.
Unfortunately what it is is pretty shit. On a number of levels. I hate to admit it, but there’s been a real mental adjustment along with the physical. I find it really hard when people see me with the stick for the first time. I worry that they’re thinking, oh god, she has another thing wrong with her. I worry that they’re embarrassed. I worry that I’m just too much of an inconvenience.
I hate it, but a walking stick is a blow to the self esteem. I don’t feel particularly sexy as I hobble along, so obviously I question if others will view me differently. Intellectually I know there is no weakness in disability, but emotionally I feel weaker. I feel less useful.
All the while I’m telling myself what nonsense that is. That I know better than to indulge in such ableist thinking. Then I think if I, a disabled person am having these thoughts, then others certainly are & that’s not a productive thought process. I’ve already experienced how ignorant the world can be. How many people will still push past me or not offer me a seat. I’ve learned that places who bill themselves as accessible, just aren’t (and my mobility is still so much better than a lot of people’s). The weird thing is, I think the kind folk are almost harder to take. Every time someone offers to let me skip them in a long queue or asks if I need help, I feel utterly exposed. I’m grateful for the seats & the consideration, but I still feel very vulnerable about needing them. I’ve put so much stock in the power of being independent & capable that another level of disability is a struggle to accept. Yet, writing those words feel very indulgent. How dare I ‘woe is me’ when things could be a millions times harder, as I know they are for millions more if people. I know some of this linked to my mental health issues. There are familiar themes here; shame, guilt & a big helping of get over it. I suspect though, that maybe these feelings are pretty common for those dealing with disability. Thoughts & feelings aside, life is just a bit harder. For me & I’m sure for those around me. I’m slower & more limited. I can’t go anywhere without checking a dozen things beforehand. I’m grumpier & less reliable. Spontaneity is out, relentless checking is in. I hurt more. I need more rest & assistance. I find everything exhausting. I sound like an absolute joy to be around, right?
I realise this is all sounding very negative & I don’t want to be that person, but I do want to talk about it. I’d like there to more of a conversation about chronic illness & disability. I’m sure some of this will get easier. Some of it won’t & I’ll have to adjust. Spoonie life is nothing if not challenging. The opportunity to spill my guts definitely makes it a little bit easier.
In the midst of a wonderful weekend at the Edinburgh Fringe I had two really inspiring experiences. Both of which fuelled in me a desire to share some writing that hasn’t seen the light in quite some time. On Sunday I saw Neil Holborn perform his stunning poetry. He is very open about his struggles with mental illness & includes his own experiences in much of his work. The power of his honesty & the emotional response he received to some of his pieces really struck me. He reminded me of the power of sharing the dark reality of mental illness. Later that day I was introduced to a friend of my boyfriend who also talked openly about his past mental health struggles. This led to a discussion of how helpful it is to talk about these issues; how more often than not other people will then share their own experiences of mental illness. We talked a little about how that realisation that mental illness is actually really common relieved so much shame. It reminded me how important it is to talk frankly about my experiences, so that those in the depths of illness can see that they are not alone. Equally important is to reach those who have never been touched by mental health problems. Letting people see that this can happen to anyone, that the pain is intense, debilitating & uncontrollable lifts stigma. I really believe that the way to fight ignorance is information. Not just statistics, but brutal insights into conditions often misunderstood. It is so much harder to dismiss mental illness when you have been confronted with it’s reality.
With this in mind I decided to review work I produced in my darker days. For those unaware I have battled with PTSD, depression & self harm for most of my adult life. Although my mental health is much improved from the time of this piece, it remains a daily struggle. One is never cured. The best I can do is learn to live with what I cannot change & fight for what makes my life beautiful. I am profoundly grateful to no longer be actively self harming. I am also aware that urges still exist. It takes work to maintain my current life. I make a daily decision to keep fighting & I am far from alone.
I know these words may be disturbing to some, but I ask you to read them anyway. I share this because I passionately believe that a deeper understanding defeats stigma & grows compassion.
i had another little crisis
despite a transfusion in late december,
my haemoglobin had again dropped to 6.6
causing doctor’s to get jumpy
prompting talk of another transfusion.
this fuelled a panic in me
i do not like having blood transfusions
i feel incredible guilt.
other people are more deserving of this blood
someone selflessly gave of themselves.
i will waste it
i know it will feel horrendous inside me
i do not want it.
i don’t really have the option of
they will call in a psych consult
which could lead down a road
my first stupid reaction
i must cut
whilst the dr’s decide
i will blood let
i know it doesn’t make sense
there is method in the madness
my hb is already low
i may as well be hung for sheep as a lamb
i will hate myself less for shedding my own blood
if i lose enough blood
do enough damage
i may feel sated for a while
with this in mind i set to work
after two disappointing nights
producing inadequate wounds
i got angry.
on the third day,
the gp called to say they had decided to go with an iron infusion the following week.
i considered myself free
paint the town RED
i felt it couldn’t be that bad
if i didn’t need a transfusion
i had still better fit in as much damage
after two pitiful nights
i needed it
feeling enraged with myself
i set to work
i chose a spot on my slightly less scarred right forearm
i cut vertically
towards my wrist
everytime i reached a depth i could live with
i elongated the cut
started to work down into it again
i got into the most dangerous mindset
i just can’t resist
i ploughed through the layers of my flesh
with what lay beneath
i watched three distinct fountains of blood
flow into one
i pulled the wound apart to make the blood spurt higher
i sawed through
tough,unknown inner material
as the spray soared out
and hit my face
when i was finished
i don’t know how long
long enough to become dazed
i had created a gaping trench
the entire length of my foream
that continuosly filled with blood
spilled over, flooding the floor.
i could not stop the blood
nor, could i think straight
i wrapped a towel around my arm
put a huge jumper on top
took the bus.
i trailed blood into reception
& collapsed in the triage room
i was so ashamed
dreaded trying to explain myself
lay in a cubicle
i had done this many times before
i couldn’t control my fear or self loathing.
i received 21 stitches
was hospitlised again for three days the following week with chest pains & breathing difficulty
suffering from severe pain
i spent those 3 days in & out of a morphine
induced altered reality
Junior dr’s were too scared to take blood from my arms
apparently experience is required
to find a vein in this network of scar tissue
the consultant was overly kind
stared & whispered
i lay there in
all of which added up to
Wow, it’s hot. This little heatwave we’ve been having is just what I needed. Sunshine puts a little spring in everyone’s step & it’s certainly lifted my mood. Part of the fun of summer is shedding some clothes & indulging in some flirty fashion. In years gone by I’ve missed this pleasure due to ALL the things I felt I had to hide. So, once again I want to celebrate the beautiful freedom the body positive community has brought to my life.
For so many years I believed that my body was ugly. I had completely internalised the fat phobia that society is drenched in. I felt ashamed of my scars & my flab & my uber pale skin & often unshaven parts. I’ve always had a healthy disregard for other people’s judgements, but aspects of my physicality were weak spots. I did what many women do; hid the shameful bits. I protected myself with loose fitting clothing, long sleeves & maxi hemlines. Additionally I built a wall of false, self depreciating confidence. I was always the first person to make a fat joke at my expense because it hurt so much less if I got in there first.
I often doubted why romantic partners would want me. I felt huge & unattractive when socialising with slimmer friends. Shopping was a battleground of anxieties. So many special occasions were ruined because I never felt comfortable or even worthy. I missed events because I couldn’t find anything cool to wear that covered all the things I was scared to show. Countless opportunities to capture significant moments were lost because I hated how fat I looked in photographs. Most of all, I felt trapped. I was caged by the standards society told me I had meet.
Then came bopo. This idea that I was enough swept into my life & blew away a lifetime of bullshit. Immersing myself in a community who told me I was enough changed me. Actually seeing other fat bodies portrayed in a positive light was magnificent. I realised that when I looked at these women wearing amazing clothes, doing exciting things & generally rocking their lives, I saw beauty.
From there is has been a gradual acceptance of myself. A growing appreciation of how my body looks. These last few days of scorching heat have made me realise that I might have reached peak self love. Not once have I worried about flashing my flesh. In fact, I have loved selecting outfits & enjoyed wearing them even more. Stares don’t phase me because I feel fantastic. I am sexy & cool & deserving of respect. Anyone who feels differently can kiss my fat arse.
I find myself truly taking pleasure in my body. Be it snapping pics because my butt looks cute, being unabashedly naked with my boyfriend or feeling the fresh breeze on my scarred arms; I feel free. And it is joyous.
So, here I am apologising for my absence again. I’ve had an iffy few weeks. To begin with there was bad health news, which left me struggling to keep my mood boyant. Then there was a new medication that makes me nauseous 24/7 & vom almost everything I eat. Finally, there is the Trump debacle & that’s hit me even harder than I thought it would.
For a bleeding heart leftie like me the current political climate is an anathma. I don’t want to write another horrified how did this happen piece, but I don’t feel able to say nothing. I perhaps sounds naive, but I really do believe in governing for the greater good. Sometimes that involves sacrifices & I am happy to make some to ensure the basic well being of everyone. I am utterly disgusted by the rise of the politic of fear & hate. I have watched with growing dismay as we slip further to the right & minds slide closed. I’m tired of hearing about downtrodden people voting against the establishment. There is no excuse for supporting racism, misogyny, homophobia & all manner of vile prejudice. Raising the privileged & corrupt is not only wrong, it’s incredibly stupid. As already witnessed in the UK, those who already have the least lose the most.
With far right parties gaining popularity across Europe; I fear the worst is yet to come. Marine Le Pen is already talking about creating a new world. That world is not one that I care to live in. For the first time in my life I am scared of the direction society is being pushed. I say that in the full knowledge that I live in a progressive country & hold privileges many don’t. I cannot even begin to imagine the terror others must be feeling.
So, forgive me if I am lack inspiration & my words are ineloquent. It feels as though decent people have received a damaging blow. I know we must stay in the fight & I intend to keep my fists up. I hope you will be with me.