Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Freedom to Say No

I was reminded last night of something that a boyfriend said to me shortly after my divorce....

He said to me, "Don't ever cheat on me, don't ever stop [insert sexual favor here], and don't ever get fat."

A few years later, another boyfriend said to me last summer, "If you would just tone up your body I would be putty in your hands."

Why am I writing this? Because these types of comments are pervasive in our culture. Men think that they have the right to comment on women's bodies. As a woman we are taught to keep quiet and contain the shame within us rather than putting the responsibility where it belongs - on the shoulders of the men that make such comments.

I am saying no. I'm daring to speak.

As I embrace my single womanhood, I'm realizing that there is enormous freedom in not being in a relationship. This is something that women have come to realize throughout history, and I have come to realize it too.

Ultimately a relationship should bring greater Freedom, not the other way around.

Through the challenges, my voice is emerging. I'm deeply grateful.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Why is a Healthy Body a BETTER Body?

As a society, we tend to associate certain bodies with "health" and others as "unhealthy." Usually this is related to obesity/weight/etc. We say that one body is "better" because she is "healthy" and another body isn't as good because she is "unhealthy." We make these judgments based upon appearance from the outside. I could write A LOT about the fact that thin bodies aren't always healthier bodies (and this is something I know about given the fact that i was anorexic), but I want to take a moment to address a bigger issue -

Why is it okay to judge other people's bodies in any circumstance? Why are healthy bodies better?

Imagine how that feels to those of us that are dealing with a chronic illness, or that have a disability, or are sick, when we constantly see messages that healthy bodies are better bodies? Does that mean that my body isn't as good? Isn't as worthy? Isn't as socially acceptable?

You might say - well, I am not talking about you...you have an illness. I am talking about people that are obese when they could do something to make their lives different! 

But that is a false distinction. People only know about my illness because I share about it openly.  How can we possibly know what is going on inside of another person? And even if a person is struggling with food addiction or some other cause of health/weight issues, does that make their body worthy of judgement?

For the first time in my life, I am living in an overweight body. As a former anorexic, this is my worst nightmare. Pictures are hard for me. Going out in public and LIVING in the midst of my current health situation is painful - why? Because I am subject to the judgement of others.

People can be cruel. And yet I am sick - There is nothing I can do to change my circumstances. The stress dose steriods are keeping me alive while they hunt for the cause of my acute pain.  Yet the steriods have left me swollen. As I walk down the street, people don't know this about me - as I encounter new doctors, they don't know what's happening with me.......they only see my body. And for some reason, we have made it socially acceptable to judge overweight bodies as "less than." 

I feel compelled to say that my body is not up for judgement. A healthy body is not a better body - If I were to allow this pervasive belief to become a part of my own personal consciousness, imagine how that would feel?

I walk with those that are suffering. People that live outside are my teachers. We judge them too. I suppose this is why I embrace my own personal journey. I am finally at a place where I am learning to love my body unconditionally. After years of forcing my body into societal ideals so that other people find me attractive, seductive, sexy, smart, intelligent, successful....I am finally learning to live in harmony with myself. Right now, my body is struggling and in pain and yes UNHEALTHY...And yet, I still LOVE my body. My body is the vessel that God has given me, it is a part of my human experience, and I am grateful.

Published in The Mighty

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Parenting when my Invisible Illness Became Visible

Featured in The Mighty

My 8 year old daughter has began to notice that kids can be mean to other kids over different body shapes and sizes. Although I’ve heard her express these concerns for a few months now, it was yesterday that she worried about people making fun of me because I’m swollen from the steroids I have to take to manage adrenal insufficiency, in tandem with the extra water I’m carrying around to keep the POTS Dysautonomia symptoms at bay. Let’s face it, I don’t even recognize myself sometimes when i look in the mirror. Up until a month ago, I was taking in 4 Liters of IV fluids a week. Now I drink a gallon of water a day to “keep my tank full” as the experts say. Swollen is an understatement. 
My daughter and I have always had an open dialogue about health related issues, especially in the wake of the traumatic brain injury that changed my life when she was just 2 years old.  In consultation with experts, I discovered that kids have more anxiety when there are “secrets.” So I focused on age appropriate honesty about the healing journey that has unfolded since 2011.
This approach has been especially important as my body has changed time and again.  There are months when my disability is “invisible,” and then there are times when the struggle is readily apparent. The thing is, my little girl will tell you that she loves my body because I am “cuddly” right now!  Thankfully our home is filled with positive conversation. She didn’t know me when I was anorexic (through my entire 20’s), and she doesn’t remember what I looked like before the TBI.  We simply accept and love each other unconditionally as both of our bodies are changing, albeit for different reasons. 
Today, though, i was proud of her for communicating one of her worries with me – again, the benefit of open dialogue. With school approaching, she expressed concern that others will judge us (yes, her too) because I “look different than the other mommies.”
It’s sad that we live in a world where an 8 year old is aware of such things. However, it’s also an opportunity….People look different for a variety of reasons. It wouldn’t matter if I was in a wheelchair, or losing my hair, or with a prosthetic leg, or swollen as I am from life saving steroids…. when a condition illness or injury becomes visible there is always the opportunity for judgment and misunderstanding….but there is also an opportunity to educate and raise awareness.  I am grateful to have a little girl whose first reaction is compassion and kindness. 
My daughter is incredibly courageous, as she has lived with a mom with a disability for as long as she can remember. She doesn’t see any weakness in me, just the incredible strength that I bring to her as her mother.
There are all kinds of disabilities out there, I just happen to have one that’s visible at the moment…..and the lesson is that it’s okay.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Badass Vulnerability

I've been contemplating "badassery" this morning as I drove my daughter to camp in the midst of passing a kidney stone.  I knew that I'd be able to manage the pain until I got home, and I am on enough steroid to give me coverage this morning. In other words, it was safe to drive. But was it a good idea?

There was a time that I gave  a presentation at a National Conference in the midst of a massive gallbladder attack. Nobody knew. I remained seated the entire time and had some of my nurse friends at the back of the room ready to step in and help in the event that I passed out. 

Throughout my life I've come to realize that I have a big survival response and I am certainly tough! Some might say that my ability to tough it out is "badass"... As a single mom there are many occasions where I have to step up and do things that my partner would otherwise do for me if I had that option. For them where I live with several chronic conditions that literally bring a person to their knees. And I don't talk about the daily stuff simply because it's a part of life!

As i was contemplating badassery this morning, however,  I noticed something different.  "Toughing it out" is my default. It's easier for me to do it myself rather than risk the vulnerability of asking for help. Every time I'm flattened by something, I experience a fear of being judged or abandoned or called a burden.  And I'll add the there've been occasions where I have been called these things by people that I loved, and there have been occasions where I've experienced support and kindness in ways that exceed my wildest imagination.  Ultimately it's about letting go of other people's opinions of me and being willing to step into the vulnerability of self-care.

See....when you have adrenal insufficiency, energy and pain management becomes a different ball game. Pain burns through cortisol, and today the goal is simply to avoid another emergency room trip for an injection of hydrocortisone. My neuroendocrinologist was very clear about the importance of me managing the pain today and not toughing it out! But here's the thing....Managing the pain means that I can't drive...and that means I have to ask for help.  Thankfully my dad's in town so I will ask him. Thankfully my sister might be able to help too. Thankfully I have an amazing network of friends that will always step in and help.....And most importantly I can trust them to say no if they genuinely can't!
But none of this changes the fact that true badassery for me is being vulnerable enough to write this post (because it's REAL), vulnerable enough to ask for help when I need it, and willing to allow people to have their reactions, whether positive or negative, understanding or judgmental.

They say that you deserve the love that you would so willingly give to others. I think that about sums it up for me.

Published in The Mighty, August 2017