My relationship with my body took an interesting turn when, at 19 years old, I had the incredible good fortune to survive a pulmonary embolism.
I was diagnosed with chronic DVT, a blood clot in the deep veins of my left leg too massive to operate on and tested positive for a clotting mutation called factor V Leiden.
I remember at one point during my time in hospital telling the nurse helping me clean myself and wash my hair while I sat awkwardly naked in a wheelchair, hooked up to an IV, how I’d always been self-conscious about my calves, but in contemplating my grotesquely swollen mass of a leg, now they didn’t seem so bad.
I didn’t know at that point my leg would never be the same. The swelling did go down, but the damage to the veins was permanent and the clot running from my calf to my groin is, of course, still there. To attempt to operate and remove it would mean a good possibility that some of the clot could break off and make its way back to my lungs and kill me, or become lodged in my heart or my brain and kill me.
So. There it stays.
Leaving me on good days, uncomfortable, and on bad, in pain.
There are little complications and big ones.
I can’t run or crouch, and I have to wear an uncomfortable, tight, thigh high compression stocking every day to keep the swelling to a minimum and to try to minimize the steadily growing damage to the surface veins of my leg.
Pregnancy would be high risk at best, unsuccessful or fatal at worst.
It’s an irritatingly constant reminder of my mortality and adapting to it has been a challenge.
I don’t know if every cloud has a silver lining, but if this one does, beyond the fact that my life did not end that day 19 years in, it would be that a potentially fatal condition does give a person a fair amount of perspective.
Image: Jérôme via Flickr
It made me think more about my body as a vehicle, as a temple, as a tool, and in doing so, it relieved some of the pressure I felt to make it look a certain way.
Taking my walker-assisted first steps out of the hospital made me more focused on what my body could do, and the exhaustion I felt taking just those few steps made me determined to do whatever I could to ensure that I get to feel healthy and strong for as long as possible.
It made me recognize in a concrete way, what a glorious privilege it is to be able to walk. To just get up and effortlessly move yourself across a room suddenly seemed like the most miraculous thing. Suddenly I had no time to worry too much about what my body looked like, and I was forced to focus more on what it could do and how I could take good care of it to keep it running as smoothly as possible for however long I’m lucky enough to live in it.
Of course, it hasn’t stopped me from scrutinizing my body with a less than kind eye now and again, but that shift in focus has been a really powerful thing.
So my advice to women when they find themselves dissatisfied with their looks is to try your damndest to shift your perspective. Think about the amazing things your body can do besides fit into your skinny jeans. Think about the way it feels, and what you can do to make it feel better.
And then? Stop thinking about it. Put your energy and your brain power into something outside yourself.
Because there are people who stand to gain from you being miserably preoccupied with your looks, but honey, you’re not one of them.
More from health