Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Body Image Part... I don't even know anymore

Photo credit Travis Cottreau from Poetry in Motion
Last year I posted over on the Little Miss Autoimmune Facebook page about how starting a new medication had helped me get some control over my stomach issues, and as a result I’d been able to regain a kilo and keep it on for a couple of weeks. This seemed (at the time) to signify my stomach problems were a thing of the past.

Well, that’s the problem with counting milestones when it comes to chronic illness. There’s no end point to these diseases, and as such everything is changeable. The good and bad states are only ever temporary… a fact that can be both a source of comfort and a source of fear if you let it. Not long after posting about that kilo weight gain, I re-lost it… and five others.

Despite this, last week I realised I’d come to a good place with my body image. I felt like how I saw myself in my mind was starting to match up with what I saw in the mirror and in photos, rather than my real image being a constant surprise after all the changes my body has been through. More than that, I actually felt I liked the way I looked – when a friend complimented me on a photo someone had posted, I could think “yeah, that is a nice photo” rather than immediately assuming they were saying that to make me feel better about what must actually be a bad photo.

Then in the way of life: Happy with your body image? Enter chronic illness.

Since that photo was taken, I’ve lost three kilos – enough weight that I’m going to need to get a belt for my jeans to avoid accidental indecent exposure. It was only a week ago. The day this photo was taken, I’d seen my doctor about something unrelated and happened to mention that I thought I was losing weight again, so she got me on the scales. In the week since, things went from “I think I might be losing weight” to “I’m so sick I must have food poisoning” to “how can food poisoning last this long…? oh wait, it’s a fricken' flare.” I hate that after all the years, medication, attempts at alternative therapies and diets, this is still happening. I hate that it happened the moment I started to feel good about myself, and I hate that I still feel like I’m going to have to justify to people why this isn’t a good thing.

Maybe that last part is in my head. The people I’ve mentioned the weight loss to, all reacted with variations of “oh, that’s not good” so perhaps people won’t assume weight loss at any cost is a good thing (or perhaps I just have all my friends well trained!)

I hope that I can continue to feel good about myself, even if my body changes again. The weight loss this time probably isn’t significant enough for me to actually look any different, however, the last couple of days my thought process has been something like this: “Maybe I should try eat more, so I don’t lose too much weight. But what if I over-shoot and start gaining weight? Really Helen? Are you actually worried about that right now? But if I lose too much weight, I’ll probably look really weird. Wait… Are you actually thinking this? Are you really simultaneously fat and skinny shaming yourself, while buying into superficial garbage about your appearance instead of concentrating on your health? What is the matter with you?!”

The reality is, I cannot control my weight right now. All I can do is eat whatever doesn’t make me feel sick, avoid foods which I know make the weight loss worse, and just hope that at least some of what goes into my stomach actually gets absorbed. Like all the illness stuff, this episode will be temporary. There’s a really good chance the weight I’ve lost will come back on once my stomach settles, and I’ll be back to where I was. I just hope that whatever happens I can feel okay about it and stop placing so much importance on a number on a scale. Weight gain or weight loss, I know very well that if this was happening to a friend, I would be assuring them that they are worth so much more than that, so I’m going to try show myself that same kindness.

Thanks for reading, 
Little Miss Autoimmune

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Sometime it's okay to stop (Life is about snapshots not oil paintings)

When I stopped blogging last year, I'll admit that there was a part of me that thought it was somehow going to cure me, that I would wake up the next morning illness-free, full of energy and ready to take on the world.

Yeah... nah.

My health continued to be as bung as it always had been. I also still struggled with all the feelings about my illnesses that had led me to decide to stop blogging in the first place, but I did at least start to make some headway with understanding what those feelings were really about and identifying them, even if I couldn't always change them. One of the big things that did change for me was my willingness to try new things, and make plans for the future. Once I started taking more notice of my own thoughts, I realised how much I was stopping myself from doing because of the way I felt about my illnesses rather than because of the illnesses themselves.

When I went through the pain clinic programme a few years back, one of my exit goals was to go back to dance classes. Now admittedly, my health has done all sorts of strange things in the time since pain clinic that would have made dancing difficult, but I was also hampered by the idea that I would cause disruption or embarrass myself in classes by being being sick/fainting/my legs stopping working suddenly (or any of the other things that can happen on a daily basis) or just generally not being able to keep up in the same way I could in dance classes I attended pre-illness.

Realistically, if my body did decide to have a tantrum and stop working properly, yes, it would cause some disruption to the class, but the impact of that on other people was probably not going to be as bad as I imagined. Even if it went utterly and completely wrong, it would still only be one hour of my, the other students', and the dance teacher's lives, so in the end, I decided to just get over myself and try a class. I gave the teacher a heads up in an email and at the start of the class that there was the possibility of me falling/fainting/other bung things, and she was fine with me taking it at my own pace or sitting out if I needed to.

It turned out the biggest issue for me was that after ten years without attending classes, I was completely out of practise at learning choreography and spent most of the first class facing the wrong direction. That came back pretty quickly though, and I began to really enjoy going to classes. It became a fun, and stress-relieving part of my week.

However, it hasn't been completely without problems. Fatigue, muscle spasms and pain are not exactly the most compatible things with dance, and some weeks I've been completely wiped out by classes. At the end of last term, I was really struggling to keep going. Work and other commitments were using up most of my spoons, and finding enough to dance on top of that was hard. This term my work schedule is even more demanding, and I've known the sensible thing to do would be to take a break. But the thought of stopping classes really pained me.

This was something I fought for - emotionally and physically - and something I had won back against illness. I wanted to cling to that, and not let go. I felt I had to keep going - not just at dance classes, but with everything - because if I gave in, it might mean losing those things again forever. So I pushed myself to keep up with everything... and of course my health started to bear the effects of that. Continuing to do something because I am afraid of losing it is probably not all that much better than me being afraid to even try it in the first place.

A friend sent me this song the other day:

This situation wasn't the reason she sent me it to me (we'd been talking about taking photos) but it felt like it fit pretty well anyway. I went back to classes. I danced my ass off. I fricken loved it. Here is the polaroid picture to prove it...

(I'm on the far right in the pink singlet.)

...and right now, it's okay for me to stop. I may go back to classes again - I stopped for ten years and went back - or I might not. But either way, it's still fricken awesome that I got to do this again after so many years. Letting go of this does not make it any less cool that it happened, and letting go right now does not mean "never again." Sometimes, it's okay to just say "I'm pressing pause."

Thanks for reading,
Little Miss Autoimmune