One of the things I’ve tried very hard to do with my adult life is to be a strong woman. I took it for granted that I was nominally intelligent: I could put a sentence together and pass a test without homework and I didn’t put my hand on the stove just to see what would happen.
What I never had – or felt I never had – was physical strength. I always felt big and uncoordinated, and all attempts to lose weight were met with fierce resistance from a body that will never see a size smaller than two digits.
It took me a long time not only to accept that but to embrace it, and to begin building myself not based on the template I was given by the popular media, but a template that a body like mine could find more immediately useful; something far more realistic and attainable. I started taking boxing lessons and lifting 30 lb weights and going jogging, and I firmed up and got super strong and finally started to feel comfortable in my body. I started to define myself by how far I could run, how much weight I could lift, how good I felt when I threw a punch.
All that changed when I started to get sick, and found myself rapidly falling toward the fulfillment of that media template in the skinny department but spiralling futher and futher away from the goals I’d set for myself – the ones that really mattered.
It’s hard to fall off the path I created for myself. I worked a long time to get comfortable in my own skin, to find my own strength, and to feel like that was all brutally ripped away from me with the unexpected devastation of a natural disaster was… well, devastating.
One of the most horrifying parts of coming out of my sugar coma and being able to think clearly again, to look forward, was my deep fear that now, finally, after all this work and all this time, after I finding the strength in myself, after learning to love and accept myself – all that was being taken away from me. I wasn’t going to be strong anymore. I couldn’t be this person I wanted to be. I had to take on the shroud of an invalid and live out the life of some other person, someone I had not chosen to be.
And that hurt. That was hard.
Worse: it wasn’t true.
But when you’re getting to know your new body, your new condition, when you’re learning how everything works now that something is broken, you aren’t sure what’s true, what’s not, what’s possible and what’s pure fantasy. You read up on all the horror stories and you lie in bed at night and you fight all those feelings of despair and you tell yourself, “I’m going to be different.” It’s what I’ve told myself about writing fiction for the last fifteen years: failure, giving up, that’s what happens to other people. I’m going to work hard at this. I’m going to succeed.
And, like the writing, there are days when I feel like a total fool. You wonder if being delusional is really the appropriate way of handling yourself. Maybe you should be preparing for a different kind of future. Maybe you should be studying tax law and forgetting about climbing around Peru. Maybe you should just be small and quiet and weak.
There’s already a template there to step into. Pull on that hopeless shroud! Complain about how “hard” it is cause you have a “condition”! Just hide under your bed and feed on your own feelings of self-hate and self-disgust at your body’s own weakness, at your inability to cope like the strong woman you were supposed to be.
You can flog yourself with this shit forever, but it’s not going to get you out from under the bed.
One of the hardest things I’ve had to do is give myself time to pick myself up again. I wanted to spend a couple of months setting things in order, learning my limits, and emerge like a phoenix. I wanted to be better this minute, this hour, today!
I have learned a lot about my limits since May, and some of those limits have been disappointing, but most of them have been surprising. I can still do all the crazy shit I want to do. It’s just going to be harder. Some days that does get me down; it feels overwhelming. It feels like the whole sky is going to fall down, and it feels too big for me to bear, and then I flog myself for being so weak minded, so stupid, when did I become so weak?
The hardest lesson of all has been to measure out when I need to be hard on myself so I don’t hide under the bed and when I need to ease up to allow myself the time to heal that I need. I have a whole new template to create. The last time I did it, it took me ten years. At least now I have a base to work with now, something I was very happy with, but learning to accept myself, to create a whole new conception of self, to some extent, that’s taking so much longer than I was ever prepared for.
It is such a long road. I realize life keeps going until it stops, and, like writing, it doesn’t get easier, but it’s supposed to get better.
I am working toward a better place. A stronger place. With some patches perhaps, some addendums, some allowances for error.
There is always someone I’m striving to be, and I try to live like I’m already that person. It’s why it’s so difficult now to act when I feel so lost.