I've learned quite a bit about being kinder to myself and my body over the past 10 years. I've fought long and hard to get to a place where I value strong over thin, well-being over good-looking. I still have moments, days, weeks though where I catch myself determining too much of my self-worth with physical appearance. Sometimes what frightens me is that it's become more of an undertone – an old demon that sneaks through the door when I'm more vulnerable due to major life changes or curveballs that I struggle to handle with grace.
I'm at the tail end of a particularly challenging few months. A few days ago, I went to bed feeling gross after eating a big piece of cake and woke up still feeling gross. I started that day with about 15 minutes of "Ew. I'm so bloated and squishy." And then I caught a glimpse of the newly formed scab at the base of my spine and was tempted to slap myself across the face.
I had back surgery 5 weeks ago yesterday. I was in pain ranging from moderate discomfort to mind-twisting, so-bad-I-wanted-to-vomit-pain for 3 months before the surgery. During those 3 months, there were many sleepless nights; countless frustrating, disoriented days when I couldn't sit or stand or lie down regardless of how exhausted I was. They finally did an MRI after various tried and failed courses of treatment including oral steroids, 2 corticosteroid locals, physical therapy, active release therapy and 10 days of mind-erasing pharmaceuticals when the pain became beyond unbearable. The MRI revealed I had snapped a 2 cm hunk of my L4-5 disk off and the “extrusion” had entered my spinal canal. That sucker was big enough to force my spinal nerves to re-route around it. Thus the pain from which there was no relief. I was told it had to come out. I said "Great. Find me a fancy-ass surgeon and let's do this."
They put me under for 3.5 hours, went in through a 1.5 inch incision, parted the muscles around my spine, set a rod on the bony nob and entered the spinal canal through that rod to remove the 2 cm piece of crap that tortured me for 3 months. The surgery was a success. I wasn’t paralyzed or blinded in the process; no permanent nerve damage that we know of. I spent one night in the hospital and have had a totally manageable recovery so far – thanks to my loving, attentive B and a wonderful support system of friends, family and colleagues. I can walk. I’m alive and healthy. I have good healthcare that gave me access to the right doctors. I’m not going nuts from nauseating levels of pain anymore. I can sleep through the night. I will be able to eventually return to Pilates and yoga and should have full feeling in my leg and foot within the year. My favorite part of it all? I got to watch B enthusiastically embrace the roll of caretaker, homemaker, nurse, chef, and advocate. He is definitely going to be the one the kids run to in the middle of the night.
After all that, it took me less than 5 weeks to start worrying about my weight. As if that’s important. I can walk for Christ’s sake. I have everything and everyone I need in my life to be happy, healthy, fulfilled.
I may not have internal meltdowns after putting on too-tight pants anymore. I might be able to go for months at a time without obsessing about my stomach or getting anxious about my weight. But in my 5th week after back surgery, I caught myself doing the same “rib check” I used to do 15 years ago. It’s amazing how you can come so far and then have moments where it’s as if nothing has changed at all. I was immediately ashamed of wasting my thoughts on such trivial observations. But knowing they don’t belong there doesn’t stop the same old demons from sneaking through the back door.
The day I found myself forgetting all I was reminded of through the back ordeal, I asked myself how I had made it all the way to 30 without freeing myself from the encumbrances of associating self-worth with appearance. How is it that all the fighting and therapy and clawing my way to a better state of mind only results in temporary pardons? How the hell do I forget in less than 5 weeks that being kind to myself and kind to my body is far more important that being skinny?
I am an intelligent, confident, well-rounded, well-educated woman. I am strong and sometimes even wise. But none of that matters. What matters is that I am human. Body image and weight issues are sentences that no modern woman manages to entirely elude. We all deal with them at some point in our lives to varying degrees - whether we have the guts to admit it or not. The best thing we can do for ourselves is find self-worth in any and every other place. And as my dear friend Jenna says, try to remember that your body is FOR things far more valuable than looking good in a bikini.