I was having a particularly bad day, the accumulation of a bunch of things starting to weigh on me, and a few fresh annoyances as well. I had just bought a very nice, expensive bed for the first time in my life – and hadn’t had a good sleep for three days…with at least 27 more days of the trial period (and potentially 27 bad sleeps) before I could exchange it. I was feeling the pressure of saying “yes” to too many obligations that I didn’t feel passionate about. And there was just the general malaise I get occasionally where I feel the world isn’t a great place to be. I needed sleep, I needed solace, I needed self-care. So what did I do?
I blamed my body.
After so many years of knowing that it is not my body’s fault when I have a bad day, of knowing intellectually that the body is merely a quick and easy stand-in for dealing with non-body problems and bad feelings, of knowing that just two days ago I had no problems with my body, in fact liked it quite a bit in my cute summer sundress in the middle of a hot SoCal February; even as an advocate for body positivity and self-acceptance…I blamed my body.
I stood in the mirror, second mirror in hand, checking out the back of my hair, which I discovered was in need of a haircut (but not really; sometimes I also blame my hair). The inner running commentary took off as my eyes drifted down to my butt (too big, wrong shape), then the width of my back (too wide, droopy folds); then I turned sideways to attack my chin (weak and disappearing), and then full frontal as I assessed the belly (bigger than it ever used to be). After that mental beating, my problems went away and I felt fantastic about my life. JUST KIDDING! My problems still existed, I didn’t feel better, and in fact I felt a hell of a lot worse!
It happened, as it often does, too quickly. But after a time, I said to myself, “Those things are not the problems. The problems are the problems.” Knowing at least that much, I can at least stop myself from going on a loathsome diet and instead deal with the actual issues.
Why do we do this? Why is our body the punching bag on which we try to resolve problems that have nothing to do with it? It probably doesn’t help that we live in a culture that continues to weigh women’s worth by their appearance. (Need proof of that? A male friend of mine recently saw Caitlyn Jenner at Starbucks and said, “She had no ass.” The same person who was once lauded for being an Olympian is now judged solely for her perceived lack of ass. Welcome to womanhood.)
There are times when my body has presented real problems. I have foot problems that two surgeries have not resolved. I have overly tight calf muscles that seem to be wreaking havoc everywhere else in my legs. My particular reaction to chronic stress and fatigue is acid reflux and to become itchy all over. I have digestion issues that extreme dieting may or may not have caused, and which now prevent my total enjoyment of a lot of meals. These are real body problems, and they sometimes get me down, but unlike with my fake-body-problems, I know the solution is some TLC and R&R (and sometimes an ice pack or Pepto-Bismol) and I give it to myself.
How I used to resolve my fake-body-problems? I would try to make my body disappear by going on a diet.
I wish I had known this body-as-problem-solving-substitute was a thing, and a thing that I was doing. I might not have gone on extreme diets that messed with my metabolism and probably gave me chronic tummy troubles – real body problems. I might have faced relationship problems head-on, or even recognized bad or unsatisfying relationships for what they were. Instead, I insisted that a smaller body would be the remedy for everything – and when it wasn’t, the problems were still there, and I had to fix them while I was hungry. Not the easiest thing to do.
Occasionally my real problems still get me down. I might still walk around feeling unattractive when this happens (I’m working on getting a new mental reflex) but I know that it has nothing to actually do with my body. And that’s a relief. It frees me up to feel my feelings, fix the problems I can fix, make peace with the problems I can’t, and wait to feel a bit better. That’s what real self-care is all about.
What did I eventually do to tend to my tattered psyche? I cooked, because I love to cook and it calms me and grounds me like no other activity. Knowing I can still feed myself and my family reminds me that on the most basic level, I can still take care of myself.
What do you do to care for yourself in tough times? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments!
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