One of the saddest aspects of living with a chronic illness was learning not to trust my body. When I would describe what I was going through to doctors, most listened only for symptoms, and my symptoms didn’t add up to a diagnosis. I could explain the things that would give me temporary relief, like scalding hot baths, and this seemed only to reinforce their belief that what was happening was psychological.
I didn’t really need doctors to disregard my experience; I was perfectly capable of turning my body into my enemy all on my own. The sicker I got, the more I resented having a body at all. It felt separate from me. More than separate—I felt divided into two. My body was sick, and “the rest of me” was trying to overcome the sickness to get better. I remember thinking that my body was keeping me from all the things I cared about—“it” made it necessary to quit my graduate program, “it” ruined dates with my then-boyfriend, “it” was vulnerable and weak, “it” was making me absolutely miserable. Even if stress was playing a part, I knew that what was happening to me had a physical, not emotional, root. That’s when I realized that in order to get better I was going to have to learn how to trust my body. My body and I are inseparable, and it was suffering, too. The pain was my body’s response to something, telling me to pay attention.
This shift in my perspective didn’t make me well, (after all, there truly was a physical cause of my illness) but it allowed me to notice small things that helped or hurt, even if I didn’t understand why. It gave me permission to rest more instead of resist the symptoms and deny what was happening. Listening to my body wasn’t going to heal me, but forgiving my body and accepting it as a lovable part of myself helped me see it as an ally. My body became my most reliable source for determining what was wrong and letting me know what it needed to heal.
The experience of illness and healing has indelibly changed my relationship with my physical self. I lived much of my life without a real awareness of how it felt to be in my body. I was aware of how my body looked, but I didn’t notice its strength, it’s limits, or its reactions to stress, exercise, and food. I didn’t feel gratitude for being able to breathe deeply, walk, swim, and eat chocolate. Now that I am well I live in a more embodied, more grateful way. My body is still my most reliable and trusted source for discerning what is good for me and what makes me sick. How I care for myself, physically and emotionally, largely impacts my enjoyment of life. This body is my only avenue for experiencing the world. So I listen to it, I trust it, and try to stay grateful for all of the amazing ways I get to live my life now that I’m healthy.