Sunday, 1 December 2013

Love EVERY Body #1 Letter to my body

Hiya!

You can read more about the thoughts behind Love EVERY Body here.

This month's exercise is to write a letter to our body. I'm older than some of the other ladies so perhaps there's more story to tell. ;) This is a long post, but so much has happened and it as has a bearing on my body as it is right now, today. Grab a cuppa. I'm going to go through things chronologically as best I can.

TW warning for (previous) diet talk and loss of babies. Also mention of blood, if you're phobic.

Dear Body,

We've been through the mill, you and I. If you were a boyfriend, I'd have dumped you long ago but we're a package deal - body and soul. There may have been many times in the past I wished I could divorce you and find myself in a 'better' body, but not any more.

The things we've been through together would have challenged anyone. I was taken to the doctors before the age of puberty about my weight and put on a diet. I had to see a dietician and it was quite upsetting, really. I think when you tell a young child their body is 'wrong' it can be really damaging, but it made me the person I am today. Moving on...
About the age I was when I was put on my first diet

My first introduction to pain came before I was of senior school age - I'm not sure when exactly. An over optimistic jump down a set of concrete stairs would come to bear on the rest of my life. The back injury I sustained was so severe it consumed the next couple of years of my life. Many nights I cried myself to sleep and the injury still bothers me from time to time, if I dare to pretend I'm normal for a while.

Next up was the collision of my head and a Ford Transit van. It was another ill-advised decision which came back to bite me on the arse. Having just got off a bus aged about 14 I decided to walk out in front of it and cross what I thought was a silent, empty road. Wrong. I woke up in the gutter surrounded by people. I'd walked out and a Transit van was unable to stop in time and the wing mirror struck me in the face. I span along the van unconscious like a ballerina in a hurricane (the shredded rubber on my boots would attest to the speed this happened at) before falling into the road, out for the count. I had head injuries, nerve damage to my face and legs and the first concussion of my life. I was kept in hospital overnight and went riding rollercoasters 3 days later.

Looking back at photos of myself in my teens I was barely fat at all anymore. I might've been a little barrel-like when I was younger but my puppy fat had all melted away. We were dirt poor and had no car so anywhere I wanted to go I did on foot. It would be fair to say my teenage years were troubled so from the ages of 14-18 I was out of the house as often as possible. I was as fit as a fiddle from walking miles each day, yet because I was fat as as a child I couldn't see it. I was bigger than most other people my age, but I was as strong as an ox, and muscly underneath my squidge. All I needed was one person to tell me it was OK to be me, but it never happened. I thought I was hideous at every stage of my life. I look back on old photos of myself and wish I could go back, hug myself and tell myself I had nothing to worry about in the grand scheme of things.

When I was 21 and working at Gatwick Airport cleaning planes I had a collision in a galley of a 747 with an engineer. He was in a hurry and so was I. We collided at speed, and I went down hard. The plane had just been back from a refit and wasn't ready for use yet. The hostess seat which had been bolted down atop new carpet had a 6 inch length of bolt which hadn't yet been sheared off and it went into my kneecap. There was a sickening crunch and the force of the entry splattered my face with blood. By the time the ambulance got there my shoe was full up with blood and my work trousers were saturated with it. The hospital I went to (Crawley) had staff shortages and closed to patients that evening. I was sewn up with such haste the local anaesthetic hadn't fully taken, and sent home with no crutches or painkillers. When I got home it took me 90 minutes to get up stairs on my bum, inch by inch. Every move was agony, and so it would be for the next couple of years.

The hospital lost my records (without which I couldn't make a claim against the airline) and after using up my remaining 2 week holiday allowance I went back to work doing 12 hour days in a high pressure job. I was in absolute agony and barely able to walk, but I didn't want to use sick pay because I was scared of losing my job. I took to drink and drugs to help kill the pain and was drunk approximately 16 hours a day for the next couple of years, until the pain ratcheted down from agony to a more bearable kind. In this time I was trying to get treatment for my knee, which gave way constantly and without warning like someone had viciously kicked me from behind. My leg shrank by over an inch from the injury. I had various scans and was told it looked like I had a hairline fracture to my patella and there could be bone chips floating around causing it to give way. I was promised an operation, but when I was passed onto another surgeon he changed his mind and I've been dealing with it ever since. Because my left leg is about 1.5 inches shorter than the other, it puts my left hip and the sacroiliac joint under duress, and my back usually gives out a couple of times a year. Or rather it does if I try to have any kind of normal life. ;) My right knee is actually more stuffed than my left now after 18 years of carrying more weight.

All through this crap I was fat, and I kept working. I didn't know anything else except pain and suffering so I just kept chugging on, as you do. Despite all the injuries, I was otherwise fit and healthy and being fat was an issue I could put to the back of my mind much of the time. Of course there was the occasional fat-phobic arsehole who'd insult me in the street, but on the other hand when I went out clubbing I was fighting off fellas with a shitty stick. My nan died when I was in my 20s it gave me a sense of urgency about living life and I became great at letting my hair down and throwing myself into my social life (especially after I split up from a mentally and physically abusive bloke.) I was living like someone had left the gate open. I never had any problems meeting men (or women) because I'd throw myself into dancing, getting drunk and laughing my arse off with my friends. Clothed, I didn't have any real problems with body confidence. I thought I looked all right, and since I was able to pull almost every time I went out, I was happy. I was always of the attitude that I was funny and (reasonably) intelligent, as well as being all right looking so people could do a lot worse, and I'd wised up to the fact that people like happy people. Clothes off I wasn't so happy with myself, but considering all my social outings were pissed ones, getting my kit off wasn't too much of a problem. Ha! Being fat whilst I was mostly physically well wasn't too much of a problem. I'll touch on this more later on.

I'd become asthmatic at about the age of 20 because working at the airport is really not good for anyone's health. There's dirt and filth everywhere airside - it's not the spangly, clean situation you see from the departure lounge. A couple of years afterwards I became really unwell, tired to the point of wanting to end it all, and eventually I was diagnosed with an underactive thyroid gland. In the year or so I was undiagnosed my hair started to fall out, I put on loads of weight, I became immensely depressed and felt suicidal. Within a couple of weeks of being put on medication I was starting to feel human again, and once again I felt like I was off the leash and went about my social endeavours with typical Aries gusto.

In 2003 when out for my birthday in my favourite rock pub in London, having my usual fun time, I met a quiet weirdo who asked me if he could borrow a hair band. If someone had told me then we'd be married years later I'd have poked them in the eye. Three months after we met I was pregnant, despite being on the pill and us using condoms. I didn't even know I was pregnant until I had the most awful stabbing pains one day. I went to the doctors the next day and was told to do a pregnancy test. I was sitting on the loo at home half an hour later and could've passed out when it was positive. Back to the doctors I went, and he rang the hospital and told them he was sending in someone with a suspected ectopic pregnancy. I didn't even know what it meant. I was in hospital for 3 days and had been nil by mouth for the best part of a day ready for an operation when I started bleeding vaginally. I later found out this is what they call a 'tubal abortion.' The baby had died in the tube and was finding its way out. I had never even known how far pregnant I was. I was given breakfast and booted out with a couple of leaflets.

I ate my grief, putting on a huge amount of weight. I lost the fun-loving girl who wanted to go out and have fun all the time. I didn't want anyone to see me. I lost my spark. Still I kept working, what else was there to do? In the autumn of 2007 after being in a terribly stressful job for 18 months I started to become ill again. For half that time I'd been doing 2 people's job roles, attempting to squeeze 70 hours of workload into a 40 hour week. It was little things at first - dizzy spells when I looked up or bent down, headaches every day - and then the crushing fatigue and mental confusion started. Soon after this started I was punched three times in the side by a customer at work. I got no support from the management (they didn't even bother to look at the CCTV footage for 3 days to try to identify the attacker) and I went downhill quickly after that. By January 2008 I was at breaking point and knew it was my life or the job, so I walked out and never went back. In April of 2008 (on my 34th birthday no less!) I was in Brighton, and suddenly I couldn't walk. It felt like my legs were being ripped out of my hip sockets. Every time I lifted my feet off the floor I got a massive rending pain in the back of my legs which brought tears to my eyes. This was the start of full blown Fibromyalgia. I'd get my diagnosis 4 years later - Fibromyalgia and CFS/ME. Over time they'd bring IBS, an irritable bladder, depression, anxiety disorder, migraines and a whole host of other crap.

Still I plodded on. I did voluntary work after I left work and for a while after the pain started, but eventually I had to give up because I was getting lots of injuries - back injuries, sprains, that kind of thing. Life became a series of bigger challenges and many of the things I'd loved before - long walks, gigs, festivals, camping - all became too much. I still felt much guilt for being out of work and did a part time job for almost a year, but again had to give it up as I was ill and injured all the time. Despite all of these challenges, my maternal clock was ticking and when we found out I was pregnant a couple of days after Christmas in 2010 we were thrilled. 2 and a half weeks later it was all over and I'd nearly bled to death on an operating table as they fought to remove the fallopian tube the pregnancy had burst.

I'd had a flu jab the day it happened, and whilst waiting in the huge queue to be jabbed I had some  familiar twinges, but told myself not to be silly and put them out of mind. (Once you've had one ectopic pregnancy you know the pain, it's unmistakable.) I went into town with some friends and bought some comfy bras for my poor sore boobs, then came home to rest up. My ankles were the size of my knees by the time I got in...the first proper physical 'sign' of pregnancy thus far. I'd been sleeping like shit for a few days before so I decided to stay up late to knacker myself out. If memory recalls I began to feel pain about 2.30 am, and as soon as it came on I knew I was having another ectopic pregnancy. For some reason I went outside to the front door, looked up at the sky and begged for it not to be, but by the time I'd come back indoors I'd already said goodbye to all my hopes and dreams. I was 6 weeks and 6 days pregnant.

We went to the hospital and they confirmed I was pregnant, took lots of bloods and eventually sent me through to the early pregnancy unit, where I sat rocking in pain. I'd been in hospital for about 12 hours when it was confirmed I was having another ectopic pregnancy.

Joking, but in hindsight...

I was put into a side room, gowned, prepared for surgery and told to wait. I went to go for a pee, and as soon as I stood up there was a fierce pain in my abdomen and vagina. I sat on the loo and yelled for James to go get someone as I felt strange. Then he heard a sickening thud as I collapsed forwards off the loo and smashed my face into the sink opposite me, then another as I fell off the loo and fell to the floor behind the bathroom door, blocking anyone from getting in. I came round to hear lots of worried voices calling my name, and when I tried to get up I felt drunk and woozy and there was blood pissing out of my nose like a claret fountain. My fallopian tube had ruptured as I got up to go to the loo and I was losing a dangerous amount of blood. Eventually I moved out of the way so they could get the door open (they were going to take the door off the hinges if I hadn't come round) and a nurse put a pillow under my head and told me to lie down as I was wobbling like a new born deer. I laid down for a bit, and heard the surgeon pop his head through the door saying just two words: 'THEATRE! NOW!!' They wheeled the bed as close to the bathroom door as they could get it and I fell into it and was wheeled down to theatre. The last thing I remember seeing is James's face, running down a corridor towards me after dashing upstairs for phone signal to tell all my family to come to the hospital. In and out of consciousness, the last thing I remembered was them putting the catheter in me at one end and the heart monitoring pads at the other.

I woke up a few hours later in recovery and croaked 'I'm alive!' When they got me open I had bled with such ferocity they eventually had to tilt the operating table to get the blood clots that had formed as far up as my chest cavity to come down to be removed from the incision. My fallopian tube was a goner, of course. That and the burgeoning life within ended up in the hospital incinerator. I had lost such a lot of blood. They closed me up and pretty soon afterwards the anaesthetist became worried as I'd filled up both blood drain bags. They opened me up again and drained out about another litre of blood, then stapled me shut. I had an 8 inch wound in my bikini line but I was alive.


Thus began my recovery. I was on a morphine drip (which didn't do a lot for the pain, to be honest) and I had blood transfusions. I was on oxygen for 3 days with barely any gaps because as soon as they took me off my SATs would drop to about 91. I had to have constant nebulisers as I couldn't breathe. The care in the hospital for the first two days was stellar. I kept crying because the nurses were so kind to me, bringing me cups of tea (once I was off nil by mouth) and magazines to read. My midwife came to see me but I was so spaced out I didn't even recognise her. My surgeon came to see me two days running to let me know how close it had been. I got the message on the first day when he said 'We nearly lost you.' In case that was lost on me he came back to repeat it the next day, and maybe to marvel I was still here.


Excuse the brows. Minging hospital face.

It was about 6 weeks before I could do any bending without pain that'd knock the breath out of me, and about 3 months before I was back to normal, whatever 'normal' is after that. I was anaemic for months. As a result of the surgery, I have ovarian cysts on the side where my fallopian tube was removed, which are excruciatingly painful.

Since my operation my health has gone downhill steadily. I don't think that kind of trauma is something a person with chronic illness gets over. Now I'm fatter than I've ever been, but strangely my habits are better than they've ever been. I eat more healthfully now, avoid stress wherever possible, draw strength from the beautiful surroundings I live in and exercise when I can. However, as an ill person I've got DIMB - doctors in my business. I'm not going to pretend my diagnosis journey was a pleasant one. It wasn't, and I've covered it here before. I got told by a couple of doctors there was sod all wrong with me other than being fat. Now I have DIMB my weight is a weapon to beat me with.

I've always been a feminist (although I didn't know what to call it years ago, apart from maybe 'not taking any shit') and finding the plus size blogging world and fat acceptance has been pivotal.

Recently I found a diary from a couple of years ago. I'd taken loads of photos of me from when I was slimmer and put them in the diary at about 6 weekly intervals to inspire myself to lose weight. Each month I'd put how much weight I hoped to lose. I look back on that now and feel sad that I put myself through this bollocks on and off for 30 years. Reading blogs like Dances With Fat have opened my eyes up to diets not working. Approximately 95% of people who diet will put it all back on and more.

Make no mistake the war on fat bodies is not 'for our health'. Hardly gives a flying toss about our health, not even most of the doctors who purport to. They just don't want to look at fat bodies. The war on women's bodies is the product of a patriarchal system where women's worth is stripped from us by the media (male dominated, of course) and sold back to us at vast profit and at vast personal cost. I know this, because hearing I was 'wrong' before the age of 10 has ultimately led me to a place where I am now considered death-fat. WhatEVER size my body was, I always knew it would never be good enough, so I ate. I ate for the anger that gnawed inside me, knowing to most I'd never be valued as a person because of the size of my arse. I ate because it felt like all was already lost. I ate because it felt good. I ate because my appetite for all things is large. I ate sometimes because stuff you, if you can't see how good a person I am then you don't deserve to get any closer. I ate because no one told me how to grieve for the babies I'd lost, and all the hope I lost with them. Now I eat a whole lot less, but because I'm disabled, I struggle to maintain.

Perpetuating a society where the worth of a woman depends on her ability to restrict the intake of one of the essential things in life is a means to an end. It keeps us in a state of apology, of weakness, of being so watchful of everything we do that it holds us back from doing great things.

I made the decision to break away from this hamster wheel, this exhaustion that gets us nowhere. I believe healthy habits make healthy people, and I believe in being the best me I can be taking all my complex mental and physical problems into consideration. So I eat as well as I can and take the opportunity to exercise when the fatigue allows, and I don't beat myself up any more because my mental and physical health are closely linked.

It has been hard fought, but after everything this body and I have been through, I choose to treat it with kindness. I choose to love this fat body which so many people would pass off as greed, as excess, as laziness, as dirtiness. I choose to love this body because I nearly died, and I didn't go through that shit for nothing. I choose to love this body because I know a life can be taken in the click of a finger and I'm not going to waste a minute of my precious time hating myself. 

I am a good person who has had a series of unfortunate accidents and who now has chronic illnesses which affect my life every single day. I CHOOSE TO SEE THE BEAUTY IN MYSELF because it's the unpopular opinion. I choose to focus on the good because if you focus on the 'bad' you are making your life a misery. Enough people will do that for you, so you need to LOVE you. Because when you do, you have a light about you and people WILL be drawn to that. Life is hard enough as it is without hating yourself. I choose to love myself because it feels good. I choose to love myself because others do and I'd never question their taste. ;)

I want this workshop to open our eyes to our own beauty, taking into account all the complex things which make us who we are and which have brought about the body we have, right now, today. Now you understand why I had to share all of what I've been through. ALL of it has a bearing on the person I am now. I've been through too much in this body to want to shun it. I came so close to dying that it's put everything else in perspective. When my niece doesn't want to get off my lap because I'm so cosy and people don't want to stop hugging me because I feel so good, I choose to focus on that.

You are a sum of your parts, but so SO much more than that. Your worth ISN'T defined by your body, but it's the only one you're ever going to have so you have two choices - learn to love all the amazing things about your body and personality, or spend the rest of your life beating yourself up. It's that simple.

I choose LOVE.

From next month we're going to focus on an area of the body each month, starting at the head and working down. We're all going to have areas we like (or at least I hope so) and  areas we don't like. We're going to talk about them, photograph parts of them, study them, make art about them and if we're brave enough, share those photos with each other and our readers. We're going to concentrate on all the amazing things our bodies do for us, both consciously and unconsciously. We're going to turn the tables on negative self talk, and on snark about other bodies. It might take practice, but this COMMUNITY we're going to build is going to help us see the good in each other. We're going to build up our self esteem body part by body part to bolster up all the good things we know about our personalities. By the end of these exercises we will have body self love which will go hand in hand with our rad personalities and we'll be whole selves, not broken people, not cowed people, not ashamed people. If you start off from a place where your self esteem is already high, then great, you will be able to inspire the members of our community who are just starting out on the path to body love.

If that's the way you feel about yourself, tell me this: Would you hate yourself if the rest of the world didn't tell you you had to? 

My love to all.

Thanks for reading.

I can't wait to read all the posts, although it might take me a couple of days (and lots of tissues!)
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