For the past few months I have felt very little love for my outside. I have floundered, trying to find the word, any word, that sums it up; this cruel pain that is in my heart every time I see my reflection, I shower or put on my clothes. Every time I run my hands through my hair, or move them down my sides, feeling every imperfection.
I am too tired to referee the competing voices in my head. I know what I’m supposed to think and feel, but that love and wisdom simply hasn’t been strong enough when it goes up against what I see in the mirror every day. Hair falling out in clumps. Red, swollen joints. An expanding waistline. Painfully delicate skin. All of them the grave consequences of an immune system that doesn’t know which way is up.
The elusive word finally came over the weekend, as I stood in line at the drugstore down the corner.
Here it is ( cue deep breaths):
When I have these dark, inexplicable days, my illness makes me feel ashamed.
So ashamed that I avoid mirrors at all costs. So ashamed that I avoid clothes shopping. So ashamed that I will stay holed up in my house for days because I can’t bear the thought of being seen. And yes, so ashamed that I will stop my husband’s hand in mid-air as he so affectionately reaches out to touch me. The devastated look on his face isn’t enough to get me to stop.
Yesterday I was completely sick of it. I was grasping at anything. What could I do to feel better? Or at the very least, what could I do to forget my feelings? To simply escape?
I turned to the neighborhood indoor pool down the street. The water is my friend. I am graced by her mercy, the only thing that can deliver me from the depression and shame, returning me to that rare state of confidence and appreciation. I slip in and hide, my body shielded from everyone. And then the metamorphosis begins. As tired as I feel, as weak as I am, when I begin to swim every cell in my body suddenly, vibrantly bursts open with life.
I breathed slowly and deeply, focusing on each movement. I silently thanked my mother for insisting on those lessons all those years ago; my flutter kick perfect, my arms powerful as they cut through the still glass of the water. I was made for this. My shoulders are very broad. My arm span far exceeds my height. My torso is freakishly long, my muscular legs short, and my feet rather large. These proportions that have often left me cursing like a sailor in many department store dressing rooms are the same proportions that set Michael Phelps on his path to greatness.
One hour and forty-seven laps later I emerged from the water; exhausted, but exalted all the same. And then I heard a voice behind me.
“Are you an athlete?”
I paused and turned around to meet a pleasant, smiling and very beautiful round woman watching me.
I could feel my face get hot with embarrassment. I managed a slight grin as I shook my head.
“Well,” she said, her smile growing even bigger than it was before, “I’ve been watching you. You are incredibly strong. And the way you walk, you just move so beautifully.”
A different kind of shame washed over me. Shame for being so rigid; shame for feeling little compassion for myself. There I was, hating my body for everything that is wrong, but failing to trust it to sometimes get it right. This body carries me through this world. It allows me to explore. To dream. Plan. Create. Learn.
All of it is a constant miracle.
I thanked that lovely woman for her timely words.
Just when I think I’m out of love, out of kindness for myself, the answer always comes in the form of the unexpected.
What a gift.
Have a blessed week.