Monday, January 13, 2014

Love your handles, love yourself

I need to write some things down that have been rattling around in my brain for a little while now. I have a long history of disliking my body. I think it started when I was in fifth grade. We did an activity where all the students were weighed, and we calculated how much we would weigh on the moon. I think I weighed like ninety something pounds. But most of the other kids my age weighed eighty something pounds. I heard it from pretty much everywhere that weighing more = bad. It was then that a sad little nugget of my brain started being devoted to pointing out my physical differences and how they made me inferior to others. It started small, but puberty would make sure to help that part of myself grow a lot.

Early in my teenage years, I started restricting food from myself. I would go maybe a day and a half, usually less, before I couldn't take it anymore, and I'd eat something. I told myself I definitely didn't have anorexia because I wasn't skinny. I was too vain to purge because I didn't want to damage my teeth. I'm going to thank my young vanity for that now. However, my disordered eating and body image problems continued their way throughout my teenage years and into the first year of my 20s. During that time, I starved myself significantly. I lost a lot of weight. And every time I got a compliment on how great I looked, I died inside a little more. I felt ashamed for my secret weight loss plan and bitter because of the lengths I apparently had to go through to look good.

A while later I confessed about my restrictive eating habits to my boyfriend (who became the guy I married, woot!). He was really worried about me. I felt kind of shocked by it, really, that the decisions I made about my body could affect anyone that way. It was enough that I've never starved myself since then, even though I still have had plenty of urges to do it over the years. But instead of restricting, I've had periods of binging since that time. The funny thing about eating disorders is that they don't really go away unless you do something about them. And of course, there have been plenty of restrictions in other ways, mainly in the form of fad diets. The thread that held all of these experiences together was a deep loathing I held for my appearance and untreated depression. I thought if I could just be skinny and stay that way, happiness would follow.

When I failed to get pregnant naturally, it was yet another testament to me that my body was a failure. I felt ugly, fat, and broken. If there was a bad thing to think about myself, I was thinking it. All the time. I was fairly relentless in the negativity I directed toward myself.

After I got pregnant and had Ben, I definitely suffered from postpartum depression. I look at so much of my life in retrospect, and it's so obvious to me that I have been clinically depressed for most of my young life. I didn't think so then, though. I thought that if you had a problem that had a name and a treatment, it made you special in some way, and I knew I wasn't special. Anyway, I started going to a therapist when Ben was a year old. I've come a really long way in loving my body for what it is and not what I wish it was. This is after 5 years of therapy, though. It has not been an easy thing for my mind to accept. But now, after having three kids, my body has grown and shrunk in terrific numbers, and I've finally come to peace with it.

Well, I had for a while until I started my last cycle of 2013. It marked cycle number 14 of the year for me, and I was pissed about it. I averaged a 25 day cycle in 2013. I spent approximately 26.8% of my life in 2013 on my period. The part of it that angered me that most is that it was for nothing. I don't ovulate, and therefore would not get pregnant during any of those many cycles, even though I hope to at least one more time. But that will probably happen in a doctor's office, like the last two. (Nurse Linda is my lucky charm. Chris also claims she's the rightful father of our children, seeing as how she impregnated me twice.) I fumed about the inconvenience of having a period without ovulating during many cycles year. But when I added it up and saw that it was for more than a quarter of my life last year, I was really mad at my body. And considering that those cycles are pretty short, I got to feel mad about it all over again when I had the first one of 2014 shortly into January.

What made me pause that thought was a post on facebook. It was one of those cheesy feel good story posts about an old blind lady who told the narrator something about when your body doesn't work the way you want it to, you can be mad or you can find the positives or some such thing. I can't find it anymore, and I can't remember which of my friends posted it. And then people started posting Lizzie Velasquez' TED talk. She has a rare genetic disorder that prevents her from gaining weight, and as a result, she is extremely emaciated. She's also blind in one eye. But Lizzie starts by talking about the positives in all of her physical challenges. The rest of the talk is really good, too, but that was the part that made me think some more. And then today I read this. There's a quote from an unspecified book on grief which reads: “You can’t choose your trials in life, but you can choose how you deal with them.  You can choose to become better or bitter.” And dude, I haven't had any trials like this lady has had (and I'm not asking for them- I'm just going to say that right here in the open, so everyone and God knows, okay?). The quote reminded me of when I was dealing with infertility, and how I consciously kept myself from becoming bitter about the whole experience. It helped to remind me that I still need to consciously keep myself from being bitter about anything.

I've always been the kind of person to count my blessings. I have had a lot of wonderful things happen in my life. But my anger at my body had been keeping me from thinking about myself in that way. Maybe I don't ovulate, but I do pregnant pretty well. I carried Ben to the day before his due date, and I probably would have had him on his due date, had it not been for all the interventions. I carried twins to full term all the way to my scheduled c-section. I never once had any physical issues while pregnant with them, and they were both the size of singleton babies. I have to admit that being healthily pregnant with twins made me feel like I had super powers. I had the opportunity to breastfeed all of my children, which was something that was important to me. In fact, I just finally weaned the twins three weeks ago. My body functions normally. I can move without restraint. I maybe can't run for as far as I'd like without getting winded, but my body can be trained to do it, if I would just take the time. I was blessed pretty decently with intellect (although my neurons are admittedly a bit rusty - I need to read more). My fingers are crafty with yarn and fabric. My body is a source of comfort to my children. They all snuggle me as they are on their way to sleep, and the first thing they do upon waking in the morning is coming into my bed to snuggle me there.

Maybe being on my period for 26.8% of my days sucks, but those days don't have to suck because of it. The time could go by much faster if I didn't dwell on the unfairness of it. Unfairness is the order of nature. I have to accept this once again if I want to be and stay a happy person. And I do. I want to model a love for myself and my body for my kids. I want that to be a normal thing for them. I know that my life will always be happier when I can love myself unconditionally for who I am.