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.