Making Peace with My Body11:28 PM
|I just really wanted to use a Braveheart picture...|
Add this to my list of things I've learned from chronic illness: life is incredibly unpredictable.
As you may recall, I marked last week as a high point in my treatment. My new medication was working, I was looking and feeling healthier, and I was showing progress in yoga and physical therapy. Well, as I've been learning with endometriosis, it's great to celebrate these victories, but it's also important to not take the setbacks personally. Unfortunately, I took it very personally this week.
Over the weekend, I started feeling pain again. I wrote it off as an ache that occasionally comes up if I don't take my birth control pills exactly at 7 p.m. every night. Since Andrew and I had been car shopping (I bought a 2015 Subaru Forester, by the way, and I'm in love with it), I didn't end up taking my pill until around 9:30 p.m. So I figured that explained the sudden discomfort and blood that came with it.
But the pain didn't go away. The weekend came and went, and then Monday, and then Tuesday. And I slowly had the realization that it wasn't radiating from my left side, which is where my endometriosis was and my pain usually is. It came from my right side. Immediately, I replayed horror stories I'd heard of endometriosis coming back only three months after surgery. I was convinced that's what had happened, and I began to get anxious about it.
This was only amplified by a very rough physical therapy session. It felt like all the progress I had made last week was quickly picked apart and fell to pieces before my eyes. As I went through the exercises and routines that I was starting to become used to, I couldn't take my mind off the burning and stinging near my right ovary. At one point, I covered my mouth to keep from crying out in pain, and that was pretty much the signal that physical therapy was done for the day.
I came home and sprawled out on the couch, clutching a heating pad and wanting to cry. I remember asking myself, "Is this my new normal? Is this really how I'm going to live the rest of my life?" Again, stories of women who had worse pain and worse symptoms than I do came to my mind, and they seemed to foreshadow my long future of endless doctors, surgeries and pills.
To add to that, as I alluded to in my last blog post, my self-image has been completely erratic. Some days, usually after a great yoga session, I'll love the fact that I'm at a healthy weight and able to tone up some muscle. Most days, however, I look in the mirror, poke at my new-found fat and curves, and sigh heavily.
I was grateful that a friend thought of me when she saw an article from BuzzFeed that very much described what I and other women with endometriosis face when it comes to body image. The title very accurately says "What Happens When Your Body Image Nightmare Comes True" and details one woman's experience with "endo belly."
Endo belly is a common symptom among women with endometriosis. During a flare-up (or, you know, whenever it damn well feels like it), the stomach swells up, sometimes even adding a couple temporary pounds to the scale in the process. The article's author tells a story of when a complete stranger noticed her protruding endo belly and asked when her baby was due - a cruel irony for many women with endometriosis who are infertile.
While I don't quite have a six-month pregnant endo belly, my stomach definitely sticks out frequently, which my curved spine doesn't help at all. I remember in the weeks leading up to my ER visit, my stomach would swell to two or three times its size after any meal. It was embarrassing, uncomfortable and just horrifying. The medication I take to manage my IBS-like symptoms seems to keep it mostly under control, but there are days when my favorite jeans just aren't an option.
I used to pride myself in my flat stomach that I could maintain with little effort. Now I have new weight to carry on top of a stomach that just kind of sticks out whenever it feels like. To say the least, it's been a huge blow to my self-image.
After a daily living-room yoga session, I laid back on my mat, stared at the ceiling and said out loud, "I feel like I'm fighting with my body." That pretty much summarizes my life post-diagnosis. Whether it's taking a list of medications to get myself through the day, scrubbing at new acne spots on my face or teaching my abs and glutes to work in yoga or physical therapy, I spend a good chunk of my day telling my body to get it together. Chronic illness is already a full-time job. Fighting with my body takes even more time out of my day.
So I'm learning to make peace with it. Slowly. Very slowly. I'm trying to remind myself of all the things I've learned from chronic illness, like taking it a day at a time or understanding my limits. I feel like I'm in an in-between stage again, and it's taking its toll on me.
There's one lesson that applies to both people with chronic illness and those without: stop being so hard on yourself. I have to remind myself that yogis who can knock out a grasshopper pose like it's nothing didn't get there in a few weeks or a few months. It takes more time than that, and it's constantly developing. That's why they call yoga a "practice."
So chronic illness is my practice. My body is my practice. And it takes time and a new commitment every day. That's the mindset I'm trying to develop.
Today, even if you don't have endometriosis, make peace with yourself and your body. Understand that you are where you are, but that doesn't mean that's where you're going to stay.
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