I hesitate to even write a post about body image. There are so many brilliant people- past and present- that have worked to ensure females have a worth beyond their appearance. I get that. I know that there are way more important things to consider than how I look, but it’s still an issue. There are still things that need to be said.
You see, I’m struggling with body image lately, and I think my chronic illness family will get it. I started physical therapy about six weeks ago, and I have worked really hard. PT has been interesting. Ehler-Danlos syndrome makes all of my joints really unsteady and prone to subluxation/dislocation, so the goal of physical therapy was to strengthen the muscles around the joints to hopefully hold the joints in place. Basically, I go to PT and work on the muscles surrounding every joint, . . . oh yeah, and I try really hard not to cry. My therapist is probably five years younger than me. She’s tall and gorgeous, and she makes every new exercise look like the easiest thing ever. And then, there’s me. I’m basically a potato in an oversized sweatshirt. I’m sweating, grimacing from pain (because the joints definitely still sublux), dizzy, seeing spots, and trying really hard not to cry . . . and that’s just from lunges!
I have worked really hard though. I’ve swallowed my pride and grunted and gritted my way through PT. (I would like to take this time mention there are college athletes there who are recovering from injuries too. Nothing makes you feel more inadequate than a 21 year old soccer player in leggings!) A few days ago, I was really proud of my progress, and then my body went all hot mess express on me. I’m at PT, and my left arm just quits working. My PT assumes it’s muscle fatigue until she feels my shoulder, and it was totally dislocated. The good thing (questionably) about having EDS is that even though my joints pop out really easily- they typically pop back in fairly easily too. Okay, so my shoulder dislocated; it happens. Here’s the thing. The next morning, it dislocated from peeling a banana! And then again when I was trying to pick up my dog. I’ve had roughly 5 days of an ever dislocating shoulder, and I’m frustrated.
It’s not so much that I’m frustrated with my shoulder. I have EDS; it’s going to happen. I’m frustrated that I have been working so hard every day to gain strength, and I dislocated my shoulder from peeling a banana! I feel like a mess. And, do you know what happens when I feel like a hot mess? My poor husband is left with a whiny, insecure wife. So, I’ve compiled 5 bits of advice for chronic illness sufferers on how to best deal with body image crises.
How to Survive Your “Hot Mess Express” Days
1. Remember, you are way more aware of your flaws than anyone else. Unfortunately, my chronic illness takes up a lot of my time both mentally and physically. Because the changes in my body are so ridiculously obvious to me, I just assume the rest of the world notices them too. Sooo . . . on the days that the circles under my eyes are especially dark, my ankles are swollen, and my hair is falling out in clumps I can’t fathom how anyone can stand looking at me. Why would my husband even want to watch tv with someone who looks like a lumpy potato who lost a street fight? The truth is, he probably wouldn’t even notice. I’m super aware of my flaws, but that doesn’t mean Joe always gets a memo about them.
2. Do something for yourself. I’m not saying you have to get “fancy” even on the days you feel terrible, but it helps me if I do something to feel more normal. Some days that means doing my nails. Other days, that means ordering pizza and watching an entire season of Gilmore Girls. Obviously, the second option shouldn’t be done every day. Sometimes, though, I have to take a day to myself to say, “Life is dealing me a bad hand today.” I take a day, or an hour, or a moment, to mourn my hot mess, and I always feel a little less “messy” afterward.
3. Be honest. Some days I have to tell my husband, “I feel like the grossest, most unfortunate human alive. Please keep that in mind.” Those are the days that I am truly incapable of handling good-natured jokes at my expense. I realize that probably makes me sound like the most diva-esque wife ever, and maybe I am, but if I don’t tell Joe what I am dealing with the situation will only get worse.
4. Remember your spouse needs affirmation too. I struggle with this. In my mind, Joe hasn’t had to deal with his body betraying him like I have experienced, so he has nothing to be insecure about. Obviously, he’s human, so he is going to have issues sometimes too. Joe works out 5-6 days a week. He does cardio. He even eats a lot of salad. So, sometimes when he asks me how he looks, I feel like he is just trying to shame me. I mean, he knows how much effort he puts into being healthy. Shouldn’t he just know that he looks good? Of course, he isn’t trying to make me feel bad. Everyone needs affirmation. Even on the days you feel about as attractive as last week’s meatloaf, let your spouse/partner know that you think they’re awesome.
5. Remember that today will end and tomorrow might be better. Yes, I realize tomorrow might not be better. Sometimes, it takes a few days for the hot mess express to roll out of town, and that’s okay. Eventually, it will get better. Do your best. Don’t grieve over the things you just can’t do. Oh yeah, and remember you have an entire crazy, chronic family around the world that gets what you’re dealing with, and we’re cheering you on.
Peace, love, and health friends.