It can be so difficult to maintain a positive feeling toward your body when it’s falling apart on you. I used to teach self-love in my relationship and sexuality classes and therapy/coaching sessions. And yet, I periodically struggle with feelings of hate toward my body. When this happens, I can fall into a state of semi-depressed apathy. At times, it erupts into full-blown despair, where I cry and sob to my husband some version of, “I hate my body!” When it feels like your body has betrayed you, it can be hard to summon self-love. But I’m working on it. Read on and I’ll share what I’m doing.
Welcome to My Inner Darkness
I used to enjoy my body. I have been doing yoga since I was an infant and even taught it for several years. I was a Thai yoga bodywork practitioner for awhile. I enjoyed dancing, both at clubs and at festivals. I enjoyed dressing up and going out on the town.
Then my body started to fail me. I developed diabetes and had probably had it for awhile by the time I was diagnosed. Finally, when nothing else seemed to work, I was prescribed insulin, which I have to inject at least once a day.
Because I was initially misdiagnosed (read that story here or watch the video embedded in this post), I maintained very high blood sugars for a long time, which led to some complications. I take medicine for the neuropathy pain in my legs and feet. I get injections into my eyes for my diabetic-related macular edema. I developed frozen shoulder in BOTH shoulders. I have insomnia, which I also take medicine for. I’ve got a touch of carpal tunnel syndrome and a tear in one of the rotator cuff muscles. These last two things are not necessarily a result of having diabetes, but they do contribute to my overall pain and discomfort.
I also discovered that I have a congenital defect in my lower back which has led to quite a bit of pain and discomfort. Between the frozen shoulders and the back issue, I have become way more sedentary. It’s hard to find an exercise I can do without causing harm, or at least a lot of pain. Unfortunately, less exercise means more muscle stiffness and weakness.
My physical challenges have led me to struggle with my weight, as well. Add to that the weight gain I experienced once I started taking insulin, and it can be hard to manage. Then I look in a mirror and dislike this new shape my body has. It all adds up.
I’ve got to do something. But it can get so discouraging. Sometimes I wish I didn’t have to deal with this skin bag of bones and muscles and failing organs. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suicidal. But there are definitely days that I hope I don’t live a very long time, because some days (my darkest days), all I can see in my future is misery.
I don’t have children of my own to take care of me in my old age, I don’t have much of a retirement fund built up, and I suffer from a horrible, progressive disease. I just don’t see a rosy future for myself.
So I struggle to find ways to generate a sense of acceptance about my body and its limitations; to feel self-love once again. It’s not easy.
I Try to Honor My Body’s Needs
Here’s what I do. I try to honor my body’s needs and not feel bad about that. For instance, I now use the little electric wheelchair cart in grocery stores almost every time I shop. I refuse to feel ashamed that I need to do so to avoid being in agony at the end of a shopping trip.
And I try not to engage in the “Well, he’s got it worse than me” game in my head when I see an old veteran limping through the store with a cane. In those moments, I have to fight not to feel like a fraud. Having an invisible disability can tempt people (including our own brains) to disregard or minimize its impact. I had the opportunity to shift the mindset of a Walmart greeter the other day on this topic.
I was waiting for Steve to retrieve one of those carts from someone who was leaving as we came in. Meanwhile, the greeter and I watched as a pre-teen sat on the wheelchair cart outside the beauty salon. The greeter had initially thought the cart was for the mother, and she asked me if I thought the kid looked like he needed the cart.
“Was he walking okay?” she asked. From her facial expression, I could tell she was going into a judgmental mode, doubting his need for a cart.
“It looked like it to me, but you know, you can’t always tell by looking at someone why they may need to use one of these things,” I said. “I mean, look at me. I don’t look disabled, but I’ve got a defect in my back that I’m trying to avoid having to have surgery to correct. But you can’t tell that.”
“That’s true! Okay then,” she said with a smile.
Another way I try to honor my body is by giving it the food it needs, which is low carb and mostly vegetarian. When I don’t stick within those rules, either my blood sugars go out of whack or my gut rebels.
I also try to get enough sleep at night and to take naps, if I need them.
If I can, I try to honor my body’s needs, whatever they are, even if those needs are not the same as other people’s, even if other people don’t understand. I also share the concept of spoon theory with non-disabled people, so they understand that sometimes I just don’t have the energy they have or that I’d like to have for different things.
I also refuse to feel shame about having to expose my belly to give myself an injection, if we happen to be out when I need one. So many people with diabetes will seclude themselves in a bathroom to inject insulin. I did early on, but do you know how much bacteria floats around public bathrooms? No way will I do that now. I have a legitimate need and I won’t feel ashamed about that.
Acceptance is a Process; So is Self-Love
It’s important for me to recognize that not every day is horrible. In fact, I’ve been having more good days than bad for awhile. If I stick to my self-care regimen, I usually do okay. But there is still a long way to go.
“Acceptance continues to be a process,” said Rachel Zinman, who runs the Yoga for Diabetes blog and just published an article on Diabetes Daily about using chanting to help in her diabetes management practice.
It’s true. Some days are better than others and I’m striving to continue the ratio of far more better days than bad. I continue to work on my self-acceptance and self-love and accept that these are practices and processes, not static achievements.
How I Am Continuing to Work on Self Love & Acceptance
An important thing to remind myself sometimes is that I am more than my body. I am more than this disease. I wrote about all the other things that define me besides diabetes last year.
My plans moving forward include actually getting back on the mat (the yoga mat) and trying to start doing yoga very gently again. I know it’s good for me at any fitness level, but it’s hard knowing what I was once able to do (not that long ago), which I can’t even attempt right now. But I will sit and I will try. And I’ll also use some of that time to meditate, which can be so soothing, both mentally and emotionally.
I also need to journal more. It’s poisonous to keep all these negative feelings locked up and pushed down. I know that this only makes them worse and that when they boil over, I’m liable to hurt someone else with my angry words. That anger I feel toward myself (and can’t bear to feel), I will sometimes direct outwardly. That’s not fair to those around me, especially since they are who love and support me. Journaling helps me process and let go of the negativity within my brain. It helps me find my equilibrium again.
Maybe I will also find some therapy for myself. Since we live in an RV and travel frequently, I might look into one of those virtual therapists or life coaches, someone I can meet with on the phone or via online video conference. Having someone trained in how to help you work through your mental and emotional issues is so valuable. My husband is wonderful and amazing, but he also feels really badly that he can’t do more to help me, and that can sometimes get in the way. Plus, he simply doesn’t have the training to help me process all my dark crap. So, finding someone who can will be a blessing for us both.
Finding Support and Inspiration Online
Continuing to build up my online support system in the diabetes and the disabled online communities would be smart. I can connect more on social media, participate in tweet chats, and read more blogs. It helps not to feel so alone in all this.
I felt so inspired after reading a post on self-care by Vilissa from Ramp Your Voice. Here’s a snippet:
“Let me say this loud and clear: NEVER feel guilty or ashamed to admit that you need some personal time, or “me time,” as I like to call it. You are your star player, and that means putting your needs and health first. Making time for yourself is not selfish; it is the responsible thing to do. You are only ONE person with only so much stamina to get through the day. You cannot be everything to everyone when you are not honing in on what matters to you.”
She shares a couple of helpful resources for people trying to establish or return to a healthy self-care regimen. I might be trying those myself!
Here are a couple other great blog posts and resources on the topic of loving yourself (even on the bad days) from The Body is Not an Apology site:
Taylor Carmen, wrote a post called, “10 Tips for Radically Loving Your Body (Disabled or Otherwise).” This post has some excellent suggestions for how to reorient your thinking about your body. I especially love their suggestion to equate value with joy, instead of ability.
“On the really bad days, when I’ve walked too far and my legs hurt I might say, “my hands are for writing.” When I’m beating myself up for my inability to do much of anything, I might say: “Today my body is for drinking tea and staying in bed to love my fiancé.”
Carolyn Catlin, published “How Do You Love Your Body On Bad Days? 6 Lessons to Surviving Illness and Resurfacing Self Love.” It’s a beautiful meditative description of her journey through chronic illness and how she has come through the darkness to find her new normal.
This was an incredibly difficult post to write. I thought, “How can I write about self-love and body acceptance when I don’t love my own body?” I kept putting it off, allowing myself to get distracted when I did sit down to write, and I lost the whole week. I realized just before bedtime last night that I still hadn’t finished this piece.
My inner child is worried about being yelled at, shamed, criticized for this failing. But, in the spirit of self-love and compassion, I envision myself giving my inner child a hug and saying:
“Hey, it’s okay. This is a hard and scary topic. It makes sense that you didn’t want to write it, didn’t want to share this darkness with people. But it can help others, so I’m proud of you for finally getting it done. So it’s a little late, so what? You did it! Thank you.”
Join Our Online Support Group
Do you need support to help deal with feelings of self-loathing, body negativity, or apathy toward your body? Let’s help each other. I’ve got a support group, called the Diabetic Herbivore Support Group (I know, super original name, right? LOL). Here we are all peers, dealing with a lot of the same issues. Share your struggles and your joys and we’ll do the same. Ask for what you need and give to others whenever you can. None of us are alone. Reach out and join us.