I had a conversation in early May of this year that sticks with me. I think of it often, like it’s stuck to the insides of my skull and I could not scrape it off even if I wanted to.
A friend of mine and I sat on a hill of grass overlooking Boston as the sun set. I wondered aloud to him — “You know that feeling of bliss, of being so in love with the world, and so passionately delighted to be alive?”
“Yeah,” he responded, a bit of wist in his voice.
“Didn’t you used to feel that way all of the time? I used to feel that way all of the time. It was my default. Now — I’m lucky if I can muster that feeling up for a few brief moments every month. What happened?”
“I’m not sure,” he replied.
Then, at the same time, we both said, “It’s because we’re adults.”
The difference between childhood and adulthood is mostly responsibility, in my opinion. It’s about having to take care of things. It’s about having things be at stake in your decision making. And it’s not not just anything at stake in your decision making, but important things. Your health, the health of your significant other, parents, and children, your career, and your ability to keep putting food on the table are just a few examples. Your ability to pay for insurance and to have a roof over your head. Looked at from this angle, being an adult is about bearing stress. It’s about juggling all of these things and taking care of so many people. Stress is worry — it takes your brain’s resources and directs them towards managing your responsibilities.
The thing is, however — that this worry is the precise thing that separates us from the youthful joy of being alive.
So it’s not the responsibility that robs us of freedom and joy per se. But it’s the mental energy that comes along with it.
Think about the times in which you happily engage others, really enjoy yourself, and spread love. Think about the times in which it is easy to be open, to be loving, and to be joyful. Are they not the times in which you are the most unburdened and free? In which you are unafraid, and do not bear the weight of fear and stress?
Alternatively, think about times of your life in which you have had many things to worry about. Do you not feel curled into your own self? Do you not feel as though it is more difficult to positively engage the people around you? Ever have an impending deadline and snarl at every person who approaches your workstation? God forbid they disrupt your ability to get the damn thing done on time.
To be honest, all of this is okay, I think. It makes perfect sense. I see it as a matter of energy. Each of us only has a given amount of energy. This energy can be directed anywhere — toward sadness, anger, play, delight, or diligent work. But it cannot go everywhere. And it is limited. And your biological priority is taking care of yourself and your responsibilities first and foremost (or your offspring and family, but that’s just as draining.)
So when you are worried, anxious, stressed, or have any kind of mentally-demanding challenge floating arond in your brain, you direct your energy inward. You do everything you can with all of the resources at your disposal to manage your responsibility. You might overshoot and give it more energy than it needs, but you are still doing your best and you need to be understood and forgiven for that. On the flipside, when you are not anxious, stressed, or have inner-problems toward which you need to direct energy, then you are liberated to give your energy to other things. To happy things. To external things. You are free to play, free to laugh, and free to love.
The reason I bring this all up is because I think it is one of the most important factors for overall wellness.
We talk about stress a lot in the health world. But what do we mean by this, and what is its real effect? What are the different kinds of stress? How should we handle it?
Understanding stress in this way helps me navigate it better and reduce it. I know that my body directs all of its energy toward my responsibilities because it is doing its best to keep me alive. But does it have to? Can I not allocate time for certain worries, and firmly tell my brain to cool it at other times, and let the gratitude and joy of liberated living flow into that vacuated space?
Understanding stress in this way makes me forgive myself for being stressed in the first place, too. It’s okay — I understand now that my body and my brain are doing their best to help me. I understand that they demand my energy because they think they need it in order for me to be safe. Sometimes I don’t need them to do this, and I can tell them to relax and take a break for a while. On the other hand, sometimes I really do need to give 100 percent of my energy to the problem I am dealing with. When this is the case, I let myself do it.
I understand that I actually need to devote all of my energy to stressful events sometimes. This is important. In some sense, it’s an acceptance of my basic humanity and fragility where I let my need to take care of things override my desire to feel or ability to act outside of this stressful zone. I let my stress run its course through me without resistance. I give myself to the demands my situation has put upon me, and I let my brain do the mental work it wants to do. When I can accept and live through times of crisis in this way, then even the fact that my brain has demanded 100 percent of my mental energy does not make me feel as wretched at it normally does, because I know that this is the best and most efficient way to weather the storm. My stress and I in this case work together rather than against each other.
This works for me in a million different realms, particularly when it is a professional or social situation that demands thought and care. This is especially important for me as someone who’s job it is, literally, to think. Though it works in myriads of other ways, too, particularly in how I relate to myself and manage my relationship with myself.
Many of us worry about our health. Or we worry about how loved we are. Or how beautiful we are. Or something. But how much energy do we need to give that? What does your brain need in order to efficiently achieve a level of safety and love? Do you let your stress have the time that it needs? Do you let yourself think and research health issues the appropriate amount of time? You can do it too much, and you can do it too little. What is right for you? What is the best way to work with your stress and the mental energy it is demanding, rather than against it?
All decent food for thought, in my opinion. What do you think? Do you experience a limited amount of energy that can either go inward or outward? What helps you feel positive and share your positivity rather than being curled inside of yourself?
What helps you feel the grand joy and excitement of being alive?
What are your strategies for keeping stress from getting in the way?
The Art of Non-Attached Pleasure: How Letting Go is the (or One) Key to Peaceful Progress and Maintenance
The last post I published here was about my recent test results. Everything out there is better than it was before, huzzah! My male sex hormones are down, and my female sex hormones are up. My fasting insulin is improving, and my thyroid levels are inching normal, too. Perhaps best of all, however, is that I have a libido again. I have consistently clear skin for the first time in three years. I have a curvy but fit body that maintains its weight naturally. I don’t have to monitor calories. Things aren’t perfect — but they are leaps and bounds on the rise.
What has facilitated this recovery and rise?
Part of it has been diet, absolutely. The specific troubleshooting I did within the paleo template was also crucial. A big part of my problem was fiber (more on which in future posts). The amount of fiber I ate contributed to inflammation, which piggy-backed onto hormone flucutations and gave me cysts on a regular basis. I also added magnesium back into my life, which has been a godsend if there’s ever been one.
Another part of it has been stress reduction in my life as a whole. My living environment used to be stressful. My academic life carried a high amount of worry and stress. My life as a health advocate had its own troubles. Having a project such as The Book hanging over my head didn’t help, either. Working on all of those things has done enormous things for my wellness.
But I have come to believe that the most important part of my healing has been healing my relationship to healing. Let me explain.
As I moved forward with my acne, my hormone problems, and my concerns about my body in general, I was attached to what I achieved. I focused on the results. I wanted clear skin. I wanted libido. I wanted menstrual cycles. Every time I tried a new tact and didn’t achieve what I was looking for, however, I became more frustrated. I got more afraid, more angry, and more disheartened. “It’s been years, mom!” I have whined several hundred if not thousands of times in the last stretch of my life.
Then, whenever things started to improve, I got even more anxious because I didn’t want them to go away. If I managed to have clear skin for a week, I’d have an unhealthy amount of hope about it sticking. I’d be a freak about it. I’d do my best to stay away from mirrors and such, but I couldn’t help but always be on the lookout for more acne, safeguarding myself against that demon that had haunted me for so long.
And I was stressed about it, and it hurt the quality of my life, and also my physical body, I am sure. I didn’t want to stress about it, but I know it sat in the corners of my brain, haunting me silently.
I wanted to heal, and I wanted proof of healing. Now.
Today, I have “healed.” I have hacked the things that needed hacking in my body and in my life. I have seen a lot of improvement. It’s tempting to become attached to my clear skin. It’s tempting to get invested in my slim body. A part of me feels a strong pull to put all of my happiness and confidence into those things, and to fall back on my own model of feeling sexy, healthy, and happy because I was meeting some standard of health and appearance. Who doesn’t want to look in the mirror and see a stereotypically hot woman staring back at her?
The thing is, however, is that I have realized as I have healed that the most important thing for my wellness right now is not being attached to those things at all. The acne will not be perfect. I will probably always get some breakouts. I might even fall back into serious skin issues. More important still are the truly inevitable things. My body is aging every day. I will not always been the young little thing flying around the dance floor. Some day I will lose everything my physical body has to offer. We all will.
Most of you know I am a student of philosophy of religion in my “real life.” Most of the world’s religious traditions speak to what I have been wrestling with on some level, and one of my favorite strands of thought on it goes something like this:
We are here to delight in the good things we have, but we must be able to let go of them. Just as the leaves fall every autumn, so nothing good or bad lasts forever. This is an inevitable fact of being alive.
With health, relationships, statuses, jobs, and just about anything else in our lives, we are always in relationship. In these relationships, we have the choice to stitch our skins to the good stuff and bleed when inevitably torn apart, or we can hug and kiss and nuzzle them with loose, loving, and forgiving arms.
The more I learned to accept that the good, fun things like six pack abs and good health I get to delight in will not last forever, the more peace I developed in my healing and my maintenance of good health. I can do my best, but I cannot maniacally monitor, shape, and control everything that happens to me around the clock. More importantly, I cannot base my happiness on my clear skin. If I did, then I would be hurt by the stress of maintaining it and by the stress of (maybe) losing it.
Instead, if I base my happiness say on my gratitude for the good health I get to have now, and on my relationships, and on my purpose and on all of the beaty and love in the world, then I can delight in the good stuff without anxiety and be happy. Otherwise I’d just walk around worrying all of the time. Someday it might all fall to pieces, and I have got to be okay with that happening.
I remember after paleo fx this year I wrestledsignificantly with the question of what we were all doing there. Why bother troubleshooting health so vociferously? Why keep looking for perfection in a body? Why keep optimizing? I think this sits at the heart of that trouble I had. Physical health is so important, but it has got to be folded into healthy minds and healthy hearts, at peace with existing no matter what instability and tremors live within them.
At least for me. I love your thoughts, as always.
The following is a guest post written by Kate of Eat, Cycle, Repeat. I love her stuff. I really can’t say anything more. I can say that I had no say whatsoever in the egregious compliments she pays me throughout this post. At her request I have left them in — but please know that I do so bashfully. :) She’s raw, open, loving, and, get this, has a quote at the top of her page:
“intuitive eating – find what makes you come alive.”
I don’t know if she sources that quote to the same place I do, but it resonates with one of my all time favorite quotes:
“Don’t think about what the world needs. Think about what makes you come alive, then go out and do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
This is Kate in her own words:
My name is Kate. My favorite food is Japanese sweet potatoes. I have an eccentric list of things I want to do to celebrate my life. My favorite kind of shopping is food shopping or buying sustainable, second-hand, or fair trade goods (usually kitchen related). I’m originally from Sherwood, Wisconsin, but I’ve lived in Boston, Dublin, Geneva, and now a little agricultural corner in Chiba, Japan. It is certainly interesting to eat a primal diet in a foreign country, but it is challenging, perspective-altering, and a fun way to grow. I put a lot of my time into preparing and eating great, nourishing food, but there are other areas of my life that need nourishment and stimulation as well.
Kate then lists happiness, community, emotional wellbeing, adventure, and using fear to grow as those areas — with beautfiul elaborations on each and the role they play in her life and the world.
I’ve been doing every thing that feels right – intuitive and good. I’ve been honoring my body, acknowledging my emotions, shifting my mentality, and cultivating my spirituality. I dance. I laugh. I seek nourishment in all areas of my life.
I did a modified GAPS diet and Chris Kresser’s 30 Day Reset to heal my gut. I take two types of probiotics. I take magnesium for regular bowel movements (yeah, I’ve even started openly talking about poop). I eat an ancestral/paleo diet, avoiding phytoestrogens and all other foods that irritate my gut and immune system – nuts, eggs, seeds, nightshades, and ALL sweeteners, including some types of fruit. I did a 21 day sugar detox. I couldn’t sleep well so I added carbs back into my diet. I supplement according to a knowledgeable practitioner.
I took a few months off of hard exercise and only did yoga in order to give my adrenals some rest. I focused on calming sleep anxiety even though it meant gaining an extra 5 pounds over the winter. I started doing Crossfit in the spring, as well as sprint exercises. I still do yoga and stretching. I love moving my body.
All of these physical steps came a year after emotional healing. I addressed my sleep issues – improving my “sleep hygiene” and doing my best to be in bed early and prioritize & honor the healing, revitalizing process that is sleep. Since my brother introduced me to Paleo for Women last year and the genius that is Stefani, I’ve been working to acknowledge my emotions, actively practice loving myself, and have patience as I shift to new habits and new self-dialogue to move away from emotional eating.
I pursue a practice of nourishing my spirituality by being a steward of the environment, practicing vulnerability and advocating against shame, writing, learning, and meditating. Consciously, I was doing everything I knew I could to heal.
I do all these things – and then I realized that I STILL thought that I had a broken uterus.
Here is the honest to goodness truth of a knowledge bomb: No part of you is ever broken. That should not be your identity. Your disease, addiction, problems, concerns – none of that DEFINES you. You have the privilege of choosing what defines you. I may have Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, PCOS, and some other related issues, but that isn’t ME. I knew that, and my conscious brain believed it. Apparently my subconscious had other ideas.
I was walking to work one day and I felt some cramping in my lower abdomen. I figured it was my intestines, since those usually are complaining with either discomfort or downright pain when they need attention. And I thought, just for a second, is it cramps?! I realized I hadn’t felt anything in my uterus in a long time. I haven’t menstruated in about 4 years. I had a thought – it’s almost like things feel kind of dead in my womb.
This is not a fun thought. When I first found out I had PCOS three years ago, I was terrified. I thought that I would never have children and be barren and scarred for the rest of my life. I never thought there was a “cure”, or rather, a way to recover naturally from PCOS. Then my brother suggested a paleo diet, and I found Paleo for Women. Stefani’s work has helped me address a lot of emotional fears and resistance and learn to love myself again. She opened up a world for me that is crucial to physical repair – emotional healing.
So I thought I was aware. I thought I was addressing every possible aspect of my healing – emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual. But I still have some deep-rooted fears ~ things I was so afraid of I wouldn’t admit them to my conscious self. I’ve been doing a 30 Day Anti-Diet Challenge, and the previous evening we had been working on a guided meditation to access the wisdom and message of the subconscious. It didn’t appear right away, but when I was walking this message came to the surface: I was still afraid of not being enough. For all that I talk about shame awareness – I had a deeply held belief that I wasn’t woman enough because, right now, I can’t give someone, the world, a baby. I don’t want a baby at this point in my life, I just want to get my period. I want to be a part of that rite of womanhood that is as ancient and traditional as conscious life.
And all this fear got funneled down into the very core of my being – the part that gives and sustains life. My uterus needs more than just physical nourishment and hormonal balance – it needs acknowledgement, respect, and unconditional love, no matter what it’s abilities. It needs the same thing that I need as a person, that all people need.
One of the first intentions that changed the way I engaged with life, bringing me to a much healthier place now, is this: you deserve it. When I first heard it I started crying. It touched something in me faster than my brain could process the implications of what it meant. I had spent many years thinking I wasn’t (skinny/pretty/talented/athletic/smart/fill in the blank) enough. Once I realized that I did indeed deserve everything I wanted – love, positivity, health, relationships, joy, and more – making the healthier, more intuitive decisions came easier. It’s taken patience and more than a few mistakes, but each day keeps improving, and I have no desire to go back to what I used to do: emotional eating, negative self-talk, and spiritual disconnect.
I don’t have the complete answer on how to nourish my emotionally-stunted uterus. The lovely and not so lovely thing about the internet is we get to see all kinds of people having a whole bunch of success in healing, because they have found what is right for them. And I used to get jealous (I still get a little jealous) and wanted to do exactly what other people were doing, because I was desperate for something that worked. I had to learn to trust my body, which became much easier once it wasn’t hijacked by all the crazy, inflammatory, addictive substances that pass for “food”. I had to stop repressing emotions and learn how to feel through them safely and compassionately. I had to quit doing what I thought society dicatated I should do, and follow what fed my spirit. I learn and grow from my mistakes, and I trust the process that will eventually bring me to optimal health, even if the way is not always clear.
I do know that the answer begins at self-worth.
I deserve to feel like a woman. A sexy, radiant, fertile woman. It doesn’t matter that my hormones are imbalanced or conception is currently a physical challenge. It doesn’t make me any LESS of a person, especially one of the feminine persuasion. I am going to act as if I am already what I want to be – fertile and attractive, full of light and life.
Whatever your ailment, your “disorder”, your challenges – it doesn’t make you any less of a person. It has no impact on your self-worth, your ability to love and be loved, or your need for connection and joy in your life. That is what we deserve, and that is what we must demand for and respect of ourselves.
Major thanks to Stefani Ruper, and all her glorious self-love hacks, ingenious PCOS Unlocked, evocative podcast, and generally being an awesome dancing fiend. Also to Liz Wolfe, for introducing me to the idea that fertility is an important marker for health.
Huge honors to Iris Higgins of Your Fairy Angel and her 30 Day Anti Diet Challenge – your meditations rock my world.
Have a food blog? A feminist blog? An ovaries blog? Feeling inspired and want to write a post? Shoot me an email at email@example.com.Read More
I have fallen behind on my PfW blogging! There are so many things I have lined up for this week and next, but for some reason or another they continually keep falling off of my plate. I am en route to home in Detroit, Michigan to visit my family. Things keep coming up that trap me in Boston. And to-do’s, as I said, keep disappearing off of my to-do list. Maddening, that is.
Fortunately great things have happened in the meantime. Least of which being that I have made progress on The Book (!) to a significant degree, and I could not be more relieved to continually lighten that burden. Plus it’s turning into a lovely and exciting thing, and I cannot wait to share more details with you.
Unfortunately, I have let something as powerful as the most recent podcast I recorded go unshared, a fact that breaks my heart. This was my favorite podcast I have ever been on, possibly because I am an ego-maniac and it’s all about my soul, but also because I’m a few other things other than an ego-maniac and I think sharing these things is a powerful way to foster empowerment and love and a sense of fellowship in questing in our world.
Anyway. When I searched the podcast to put it up today, I found it and also the kindest thing anyone has ever said about me. Go here to read it (I am an ego-maniac, but not enough of one to post praise for me on my own blog, at least today), and also to download or stream the podcast. You can also get it on iTunes.
I met Kaila at Paleo fx, and we had that instant sort of resonance that told me I had found a hell of a gem, and in a woman I could relate to, too. It’s been an enormous honor to learn from her and to share this discussion with her, and I cannot wait until her work starts helping even more women and men than it is right now.
In this podcast, we discuss
-My struggles with lonesomeness and anxiety over the last several years
-What has helped me find peace with food
-How easy it is to use science to make us of fearful of any food
-Isolation in the modern world’s ideas of adulthood
-The panic attacks I started having about dying when I was four years old and how they’re related to my career as a philosopher, my sense of purpose, and my desperate compulsion to live as fully as possible
-How I wrestle with basing my sense of self worth on achievement
-Why I think “perfectionism” is the wrong word and “neuroticism” might be better
-Why writing this blog is so bad for me and I’m going to be done with it some day
“Don’t think about what the world needs. Think about what makes you come alive, and go out and do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
When I first started writing this blog, I did so because I perceived a dearth in both the medical and the popular literature on women’s health, particularly with respect to evolutionary perspectives. We might talk all day along about insulin and obesity and heart disease. But what about ovaries? 50 percent of the population has them. Or what about depression, anxiety, acne, and gut dysbiosis, all conditions that affect women at much higher rates than men? What about the enormous burden and joy and giving birth? 3 million 999 thousand women in the United States do so every year. That’s 12,000 every day. We needed to talk about women, and we needed to do so fast.
compared to women above the age of 45, reproductive women are virtually living in the limelight.
Much as I’ll malign contemporary health dialogues for neglecting the needs of reproductive women, post-reproductive women receive even less attention. But dealing with menopause — that’s even nastier for many women than dealing with PMS. Why do we give attention to one, but not to the other?
The answer is simple: women might be a pain in the ass, but at least the young ones are sexy. That’s what society would have us believe, anyway. Far more than we would like or that we would ever admit to, we reserve an enormous amount of a woman’s value based on her sex appeal. Squirm your own way out of it however you want. But it’s there, deep in your brain, I’d be willing to bet. We can’t help it — this is the product of hundreds of years of conditioning and billions of dollars in advertising every year. The value of a woman is skewed largely by her physicality (helllooo President Obama). It is skewed largely, then, by her youth. Largely by her reproductive fitness. Largely by her virginity, her potential, her sexual wiles.
This is evidenced most obviously by the film industry. From the Huffington Post:
A study released by USC’s Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism took a survey of the 4,342 characters in the top 100 grossing films of 2009 and compared it to results from the top films of 2007 and 2008. For women, nothing much has changed — in these top films, 33 percent of actors are female and 67 are male.
This means there are twice as many men in movies as women.
Only 17 percent of films are gender balanced, even though females make up half of the ticket-buying population.
Adding fuel to the fire, women are much more frequently sexualized when they appear on screen. They’re more likely to be seen in sexy clothing than men (25.8 percent to 4.7 percent – five times as much) and four times more likely to be partially naked (23.6 percent to 7.4 percent).
And then the proof, lying naking in the pudding: Teen girls feature in movies the most of all age groups. Women ages 21-39 are to be shown as sexy, or partially naked. Older women, aged 40-64, are a) less likely to be shown as attractive (3.8 percent) and b) less likely to be shown at all. Only 24 percent of all characters over the age of 40 are female.
All of which is to say: I don’t have an easy answer.
How do we give older women the respect and love and attention they deserve? How do we convince the rest of society to do the same?
De-objectifying women is the most important thing we can do in this case. It will be the biggest help, if the most entrenched battle. The more valuable women are for skills and personality, the less we will rank women based on physical appearance and sex appeal. The more these non-physical values are emphasized, the more and more older women will find definition, liberation, and empowerment in all of the non-physical valuable traits they contribute to the world. Right? This is how it is supposed to work for all of us, in any case.
Someday we’ll get there. We’re getting there.
I think film is a wonderful way to help us think about this issue and to identify the problems in our own brains. Why are there virtually no films about or featuring older women? Why are there films about older men? How might we be able to combine and blur those lines? If older roles are usually reserved for executives, mob bosses, and the like — well, women can do that every bit as well as men, can they not?
Another aspect of it is the expansion of sex appeal. Don’t get me wrong — I don’t want any woman to be an object. In fact, I don’t want any people to be objects. Period. Ever. Obviously. But I also want all people to be embodied and empowered in their own sex appeal. Just because a woman has wrinkles does not mean she is not sexy, people! What the hell! Certainly, she may be out of fantasy range for most young adult males and females. But that does not mean that she is a desexualized, de-feminized being.
Get the hell out of here. The idea is unreal. But we do it, don’t we? We see and enable men living into sexual roles well into older age — we do it all of the time. I’d leap into bed with George Clooney at the drop of a hat — who wouldn’t? But what of Meryl Streep? Helen Mirren? The idea is less automatically appealing. The sexuality of older women is egregiously overlooked and discouraged. I shall not stand for it!
Huzzah! This is a part of the revolution we can do ourselves. As a community of women of all ages, we can reinvigorate our own sexuality however we see fit. We can live into it. We can be natural women — not sexy because we have botox and the ridiculous like — but sexy because we are precisely our menopausal age and yes I have hot flashes sometimes and no my vagina does not unleash a daily cascade of lubrication, but I have been a woman for a damn long time and I know exactly how to own my natral body and to live in it and to love it and to use it for physical pleasure.*
And we can be more than sexual beings at all times of our lives! We always have value — enormous value. We are smart and productive and empathetic and talented and all of that other fancy crap.
Rawr, ladies. Rawr!
*At least I imagine these are ideas that helpful to think, 40 years down the road. Please share your thoughts and tell me what feels good for you. I’m rather guessing, here, and acknowledge that openly. The whole point being — let us not forget the embodied, sexual power nor the inherent asexual dignity of women at all ages.
Finally — seize your sexuality with me! Join our community in saying yes to sexuality and yes to our positive relationships to our bodies. Sign up for the series of free natural sexual health videos here.Read More
The following post was written in a time of great distress for me. In particular, I wrote it before I figured out I was suffering from a severe magnesium deficiency, which caused anxiety, heart palpitations, chest pain, insomnia, fatigue, joint pain, and exhaustion. While the despairing parts of this post have not followed me into my mental health and more stable life, I think this remains a powerful post that speaks about important issues of healing and wellness. Perhaps most importantly of all, I get positive and inspirational and kick-ass-y again at the end. Huzzah!
See here for my post on magnesium and a bit on my own experience. I’ll write more about that in a bit.
When I was 21 years old, my body betrayed me for the first time. It seemed like no big deal back then. Can’t have babies? Low hormone levels? No problem. At least I can focus properly on taking my finals.
In retrospect, this has been one of the most disrupting psychological changes that has ever happened to me.
As small as my own health issues are, I don’t trust my body anymore. Is it still “broken’? Yes. My acne comes back in pernicious waves. My menstrual cycle winks in and out of existence. I never sleep a full eight hours, waking in the middle of the night needing to eat and meditate. My heart races with even the smallest decisions because my adrenal glands pump out adrenaline like its their job.
Is it ‘better’? Yes. But I do trust it?
No. Not by a long shot. Along with the knowledge of what happened to and is happening in my body, I also now firmly believe that the way we treat our bodies is supremely important. This makes the betrayal sting all the more. As I move forward with my healing, doing what I’m “supposed to do” rarely makes a difference in the way that I’d like it to. ”I’m doing my best, god damnit, what does this thing want from me?” Much as I write on this blog about positivity and patience and progress and loving change over time and all that crap, on very many days I walk around with a frusrated desperation that compels me to kick things more than hug them.
My body broke, and partly because I killed her. Sure, she had her own issues, her own genetic programming. But I ate the wrong things, I exercised the wrong ways, I starved myself. I was trying to do the right thing, and I failed. I can’t trust myself, I can’t trust my body to save me from myself, and now that I am healing, I struggle every single day to find trust in both of us. We broke. We fixed ourselves a bit. But we are nowhere close to “done.” And even if we ever get there, I don’t know how long it’ll take to trust us again.
The dominant theme of 2012 and 2013 for me has been loss of innocence. While I ‘broke’ my body in 2009, I ‘broke’ my brain in 2012. That’s a story for another time, and I’ll share it with you if it’s ever relevant, but take my word for it for now, that that has been every bit as if not more disillusioning than breaking my body. No longer do I believe life is easy. No longer is everything under my control. No longer do I trust my body, and no longer do I trust my brain. People tell me the trust comes inching back over time. It might not ever be perfect, but it does come back, they say. I don’t know. That seems a long way off.
As a part of my work as a philosopher, last week I was reading about people’s existential wrestling with suffering, and I came across this sentence by ethnographer Arthur Kleinman:
A closely related feeling is grief and wretchedness over loss of health, a mourning for the bodily foundation of daily behavior and self confidence. The fidelity of our bodies is so basic that we never think of it–it is the certain ground of our daily experience. Chronic illness is a betrayal of that fundamental trust. We feel under siege: untrusting, resentful of uncertainy, lost. Life becomes a working out of sentiments that follow closely from this corporeal betrayal: confusion, shock, anger, jealousy, despair.
To which I could only say: Amen, Dr. Kleinman.
Much of my struggle in 2012 and 2013 has been dealing with anxiety, and I think a big part of that anxiety comes from this loss of trust. I question everything I do, everything I eat. How might that food affect me? Should I really have had that glass of wine? What if mustard gives me acne? Is eating fruit going to kill me the way everyone in the paleosphere says it is? I don’t wake up in the morning and presume that everything is going to be all right the way that I used to. This is what Dr. Kleinman is talking about. People walk around with the basic assumption that their bodies are just going to keep on working normally. Now that I have broken my body and my brain and watched them do things that hurt me so badly and made me so unhappy at times, and now that I have undertaken healing that has evolved over the course of several years — I wake up and go to sleep every day in a state of nasty, unceasing, disillusioning, heart-breaking distrust.
People ask me a lot about how I do it, how I did it. “Overcome PCOS.” ”Overcome body image issues.” ”Overcome perfectionism.” I don’t know. Time? Hard work? Iron-clad will? A lot of it has been amazing, empowering, enlightening, beautiful. But this trust issue… every day is a struggle. Things get better, but do I trust they’ll stay that way? No. I do keep at it. I have no choice — I’m not going to let any of this defeat me. This is my life, damn you, damn God, damn it all the hell, I’ll be damned if I ever stop living as fiercely and defiantly as I am humanly capable.
I write this confession not as a ploy or a bid for sympathy. My problems are far less entrenched, far less terrifying, and far less desperate than so many millions of people in America and around the world. I am in fact quite happy and well-adjusted, and I have made significant progress in many spheres of my health. I write it instead to share with you this fact of distrust and the role it can play in our lives. To share with you my own humanity. To tell you that while I do believe in positivity and patience and healing and taking control of our own health, I understand what an enormous struggle it can be from a variety of angles. This is for anyone with any kind of body or brain betrayal…depression, anxiety, overweight, acne, diabetes, serious life-threatening illnesses, chronic pain… I am writing to elevate, pay homage to, and hug your psychological struggle. Perhaps most importantly, I write to share with you the basic fact that while lacking trust is so heartbreaking, we have to leap into it anyway. We have no choice.
So how do I do it? If I in fact “do” it at all?
Perseverence and patience are the names of the game. And maybe even faith. Faith comes into play because we have to believe that what everyone says is true. We have to believe healing is possible. Hell, it’s already happening, we’re already doing it. We just have to believe in it. We have no other option so far as I can tell. If I don’t believe it’s going to get better, I may as well pack my bags, say farewell to my dreams, and shrivel up in a corner of my mother’s sofa. Don’t think it hasn’t crossed my mind. I fantasize about it almost every day.
We also need patience. Nothing worth having was ever achieved in an instant. We need patience for ourselves, for our bodies, and for our aching, tired brains. We need patience for all the pain in our lives and in the lives around us. Patience for grace and for forgiveness and for healing. Patience for love. Patience for learning. We need time to let our bodies relax, and we need time for our psychological selves to relax, too. So many of the relationships within our own beings have become tattered, and each of them takes its own time in healing. Let them. The less we interfere in the healing process with worry and anxiety and fear and suspicion, the faster the recovery in fact goes. And the more we forgive ourselves and let the healing move through us, the more efficacious it is. We have to get out of its way, trust that it is happening, and give it the patient space it needs in order to do so. Forgive ourselves. Embrace. Hold. Rest. Accept. Cherish. Love.
Perhaps, however, we need perseverence most of all. We need to be able to put our heads down, and we need to be able to push when the going gets rough. I’ve learned recently that life isn’t easy. Sometimes it’s tough as nails. Sometimes it kicks us harder than we think it’s possible to recover from. But we dust ourselves off. We keep going. Why? Because we must. Because we want to be alive. Because joy is real, because trust is real, because love is real. There’s no throwing in the towel. This is the one chance you’ve got. You’ve got one body, and you’ve got one brain, and you’ve got one heart. No one’s going to care about them the way you do. Give them your all. Let the tears roll. Let the swear pour down your face. Let the screaming fits rip through you. Then push through them because you love being alive. Hell, even if you don’t, trust that someday again you will. This is what living is for. This is your chance. You’re allowed to fuck up. What you’re not allowed to do is quit. Don’t quit, don’t quit, don’t quit.
These are the principles by which I undertake my healing. It’s about healing my ovaries, definitely. But it’s so much more than that. It’s about healing my brain, and it’s about healing my relationships, and it’s about stepping defiantly into the future even when it’s frankly terrifying. I have no idea what life entails for me tomorrow or the next day or ten years from now. I struggle with trusting my ability to handle it every single day. This means that I am often tired. Very tired. And tired of being tired. So tired that some days all I want to do is weep.
I don’t believe that life is easy. I don’t believe that trust is easy, or that healing is easy. What I do believe, however, is that I am equal to the task. We are equal to the task.
New roundtable podcast on disordered eating is up! George Bryant, Stacy Toth, Sarah the Paleo Mom, Tara of Primal Girl, and more.
I recently had the enormous delight and honor to hang out and chat with George, Stacy, Sarah, and Tara about our personal experiences and opinions on body image – on The Paleo View for the third time in four months. Awesome! The podcast has now been posted, and there are also extensive show notes at the link if you don’t have the time to listen and just want to get the gist of it. These are really powerful people with big time ideas, and I love them all so much, they’re such wonderful friends and real people who are inspiring for both of those facts in equal measure.
George and Stacy on bulimia, me on perfectionism, how people treat you differently when you change your appearance — literally – do you become more visible? an object? – what happens when your fourth grade teacher tells you you’re fat, and how the shape of your self love changes as your weight loss / health efforts move forward.
Grab the podcast here or on the image below!