When Your Body Betrays You

I’ve been sick with a flu/cold/plague for the last week. When I get sick, I feel very, very sorry for myself and I say this, knowing full well that there are people suffering from much more serious and long term illnesses. I do have some perspective, but not necessarily when I’m hacking up a lung or blinded by a sinus headache.

My family of origin tends to be healthy as horses, mental disorders aside. For many years, I felt a level of disdain for complaints of sore throats, backaches and migraines. Part of it was being young and healthy, the other, an arrogance derived from never feeling the betrayal of one’s body. Karma can be a great teacher.

Following my child’s birth, I went into a postpartum funk, related to hormones and to the fact that delivery had gone completely the opposite of what I had imagined. It was the first time my body let me know who was in charge. I had read all these wonderful books on natural birth. Some of the anecdotes spoke of the experience being nearly “orgasmic” (hear loudly my snort of derision). I worked with a midwife, but in a hospital setting. I was 37, so it seemed like a nice middle road.

I will not go into the torment that was the nearly 20 hours of labor, except that I spent most of it “naturally” (if it’s natural to gasp swear words while sitting on a yoga ball), and the last 4th induced by a cocktail of drugs and 1 hour completely, blessedly stoned. Things went awry in a big way and a team had to be brought in, with lots of equipment. The word “distress” was tossed around. I ended up having an emergency Caesarean and staying in the hospital for five days. My husband, who was conscious throughout, was traumatized.

When we returned home, fortunately with a healthy and loud baby, I was depressed. Recovery from a C-section versus “an orgasmic experience” was like being warm and cozy and then having a bucket of ice water dumped on you. It was painful and shocking. Meds made me sick and I was trying to nurse my new baby. I cried a lot.

It took me a little while to figure out that I felt ashamed that my body had failed to do its thing naturally. Yes, on the scale of life events, this was minor, since the end result was a beautiful baby girl. But there’s no accounting for emotions and hormones.

It was the beginning of physical understanding and dare I say, compassion for the trials and tribulations of the human body. I also gained a huge appreciation for modern medicine and health insurance. My daughter and I would not be here, if it weren’t for the machines and doctors that could navigate through this particular crisis. I would not have been able to work from home part time and be with my daughter, had it not been for the insurance that covered 70% of a whopping $22,000 medical bill.

I was one of those people who considered the body merely a container for my brain. The disconnect started in my teens with typical gender issues that made me not like or even remotely appreciate the work my body did for me. In my 20s I abused it mightily, but it recovered with the same bounce in its step, regardless of hangover or sleep deprivation or junk food intake or firsthand cigarette smoke.

In my 30s, it started to require more attention. I quit smoking and drinking. I became concerned with cholesterol, triglyceride and blood pressure numbers. I started reading up on homeopathic remedies and exercise and nutrition.

Now, in my 40s, my body is the crystal ball into my future and I’m paying close attention. It needs more motion, better nutrition, and more sleep. I’ve developed more compassion and respect for its limitations. I’ve had three fairly painful, serious injuries in the last three years. My frequent exposure to elementary aged beasties has challenged my immune system.

These days, I have to pull myself back from running when I have bronchitis and from doing taekwondo when I have a pulled quad. I try to stay focused when I do yoga, so that my mind and my body feel united, so that I honor how it moves me through my day, holds my child, types these words. The greatest lesson is not what my body can do for me, but how I can take care of and respect it. This is where compassion for the physical challenges and illnesses of others starts to grow – when you learn to honor your own.

17 Comments on “When Your Body Betrays You

  1. It’s hard for me to accept no longer being a spring chicken, a mere grasshopper. The older I get the more I understand…paint the fence, sand the floor, wax on wax off….respect the body! Ha! I hope you feel better soon.

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    • Thanks! I think I just got in the habit of taking it all for granted and these last few years have made me pay attention. I suppose it’s a natural progression as one ages. It will be really bad for our generation – we know how to Google everything and will be self-diagnosing all kinds of horrible things.

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  2. I remember someone telling me that if I wasn’t careful I’d pay for the way I barreled through life in my 20s. I’ve been nursing a bum knee for months now – it’s the first time I haven’t just gotten better. It’s pretty minor in the scheme of things – but it makes me wonder. Is this how it is from now on? I tend to power through things, knowing my body will heal OK – maybe 50 is the time to rethink that:)

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    • I have up until recently, powered through injuries. Frankly, I’m just not bouncing back very quickly. Also, injuries that I got a long time ago ache…when it rains! I almost feel like it’s a fork in the road – how I learn to deal with my frailties now, sets the habit for down the road. There’s more to come – do I want to be a self-pitying old crank or do I accept the vicissitudes of the human body with grace and self-compassion? I imagine it will depend on the day!

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  3. I was listening to sports radio this morning and a former football player said that all ex-players endure pain all their lives because of injuries from the game. I’ve never played football, but I’ve played other sports to the extreme, and suffered major injuries. One thing I appreciated that he said in the interview was that no matter the pain, we have to keep moving.

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    • I was all for the keeping moving thing until I wasn’t recovering from injuries, because I didn’t give myself time to heal. Now, I remind myself that rest is just as essential to body care as is movement. But if he was speaking metaphorically, I completely agree!

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      • I think he meant that he’ll always have pain, no matter how much rest, and that once you’re as “better” as you’ll ever be, you have to keep moving or you’ll stiffen up. I’m finding this true in the case of my old injuries that still give me pain. Maybe though I’d be in better shape if I had allowed myself to heal properly after the injury.

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  4. I was queen ‘neglect/abuse my body’ for years. From about eighteen to about 28 I filled it with everything known to be disastrous and icky and detrimental, then when I got to 28? I actually started to feel it. And I realised pretty quickly that if this was where I was at 28, what did that spell for the future? At thirty I’m now in the best shape of my life. I’ve gone from the kind of person who smoked a pack a day, spent ten years inebriated in way or another and lived on chocolate milk and savoury crackers to someone my friends consider to be a health & fitness nut. It’s weird, but the transformation has been worth it.
    I really hope you are on the mend now! It’s so hard to take it easy when there is so much to do, so I hope you get the time to let your body rest.

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    • Thanks for the good wishes! I wouldn’t describe myself as a health and fitness nut, but I definitely have changed my ways and there is still more to improve. Where I’m at now, learning not to steamroll over my own injuries and illnesses is important, but tough to learn. My body is doing the talking now, though and I’m learning to listen!

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  5. Parts don’t really fall off, do they? If they do, I’m in serious trouble!!

    I’m in my 60s and can’t do a lot of the things I used to could. Now, if we go out for dinner and a show, it takes a week to recuperate from the sleep deprivation of not going to bed at 9pm.

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    • I guess we’ll find out. When it costs more for replacement parts then to just make another human, I think we’re done. No trade-in value. We could wish for another “cash for clunkers” program, just to leave something behind for the kids…

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    • Now that is one warranty I would pay for! The extended warranty would include age appropriate fashion sense and something to stop my knees from making that creaking sound when I go up stairs.

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