Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.

“Your natural, awesome power”


ThInK

I’m not much of a Delia’s fan.  It’s not that I don’t like it for any real reason, but I just don’t wear a lot of what they sell.  But they have some awesome shirts.  And this was purchased around the time of my cardiac diagnosis and surgery so I “had” to buy it.  Th for Thorium. In for Indium.  K for Potassium (the only one I had ever heard of before).  K, of course, being very crucial for the health of my heart.  I have a standing prescription for Potassium for the days I can feel my heart beating a little funky and for when the labwork shows that it’s a tad low.  Along with iron, my potassium level has this odd tendency to just drop.  For no reason.  And in both instances, I can tell within a day.

All of this leading up to a quote from a friend’s blog about motherhood and pregnancy and all things related:

Above all else, if you are expecting or trying to conceive, get to know your body.  Listen to it.  Nourish it.  Marvel at its complexity.  Revel in your cycles, your fluids, your twinges and feelings.  Rediscover your own awesome, natural power.  So that when the moment comes you know your body as well as an old friend who’s sentences you finish, and you know the right decision, because truly you are the person most qualified then to make it. (From Jenn’s entry, “A Call to Labor” at the blog “Connected Mom”  I highly recommend her blog to anyone who is thinking of being pregnant, pregnant, or is a mother. And if you go to this specific entry, you’ll see a picture of me in another one of my heart t-shirts.)

This closing paragraph to her entry contains some powerful powerful words.  We exist in a society that doesn’t want us to listen to our bodies.  We’re supposed to do whatever it takes to lose weight, get rid of that stomach bulge, go on weird diets that exclude entire food groups or individual foods even though doctors have repeatedly stated the dangers of this, and generally make our bodies conform to this one ideal of a beautiful body.  Regardless of what we feel.  Hungry and it’s in between meals?  Ignore the hunger and wait until it’s “time” to eat.  You’re not “supposed to” eat in between meals.  Or after dinner. Or at 2 am if you wake up from hunger.  Feel excessively tired?  Go to the gym anyway and pound that treadmill like there’s no tomorrow.  Forget about a gentle yoga class that focuses on breathing and relaxation. That won’t help your body fit into this cookie cutter approved shape.

I’m sure you all know that I don’t agree with any of that.  I don’t agree with the media’s pressure to fit into one desirable shape.  And we can’t just say this is a female problem only anymore.  Look at men’s fashion magazines and fitness magazines.  Do you see anymore variety in the body types there than in the women’s magazines?  Hunger signals exist for a reason.  They mean you’re hungry and need food. (I am aware that there are medical conditions that screw with your hunger signals and you actually do have to eat on a schedule with a given meal plan.)  And there’s a reason you wake up exhausted some days and don’t feel like going for a four-mile run.  Your body needs rest.  (And again, I am aware that there are medical conditions that make you more tired than normal and exercise can help you feel better.)

In the course of the eating disorder, most of us learned to ignore all of our bodily signals.  Sometimes to the point where we stopped feeling them all together.  I remember the first time I felt hunger after following my meal plan for awhile.  It scared the shit out of me.  I didn’t know what to do.  My nutritionist’s answer: “Eat.  Grab a small snack.  And then chances are you won’t want to eat as much at your next meal.  Your body will tell you what it needs.”  I have to admit that I didn’t grab a snack that day.  The idea of eating between meals was still too scary.  But eventually, I did learn to rely on hunger cues for meals and snacks.  And by golly, my nutritionist was right.  My body will tell me what it needs.  Amazing.

And fatigue?  Screw that.  Wake up and put on those running shoes and go pound the pavement even though you haven’t eaten in days.  (please note my sarcasm.)  When I began recovery, I took one full year off of all exercise.  I, personally, needed to do that to break the addiction.  And when I began exercising again, I followed a plan I discussed with my nutritionist beforehand.  And I followed it to the letter.  Regardless of how I felt.  If I was tired and I was supposed to run three miles, I ran three miles.  If I was full of energy and was supposed to take a day off, I took a day off.  Again, it took time to trust myself enough to listen to what my body needed.

But I think there’s also a bigger problem in society, one that exists regardless of your history with eating disorders: the idea that the doctor knows best.  Follow his or her advice and you will be healed.  Do not question your medical practicioner, because he or she has the degree, you don’t.  He or she holds the knowledge; you don’t.

This is only true to a certain point.  Yes, they have been to medical school and have a significant amount of knowledge that can help you.  But they do not know everything.  They do not know what you are feeling in your own body.  They do not know your feelings about antibiotic treatment, immunizations, and the wide range of medicines available to treat every little and big malady.  And sometimes you know, you just have this gut feeling, that something isn’t right, even though the doctor looks at you and proclaims you well and fine.  But you, you know your body and you’ve lived in it for X number of years and you know what feels normal and what doesn’t.  And you have the right, when that doctor is about ready to close your chart and leave the office to say, “Hold on a second, if you don’t mind.  I have some questions.”

Five cardiologists told me I was fine.  They couldn’t see anything wrong with my heart.  One cardiologist told me, “You shouldn’t be fainting when you feel these palpitations.”   That’s sort of the problem, I thought, I AM fainting when I feel these palpitations. But he didn’t want to see me for another year.  I went back to my GP, completely frustrated, and he sent me to a different cardiologist.  I had to drive two hours to get there, but he listened to my history and my description of what I was feeling, looked at my EKG and said, “I am 99% sure I know what’s wrong, but I have to do an MRI to confirm it.”  He was the first doctor to even suggest doing an MRI.  And sure enough, his 99% of an educated hunch turned out to be 100% accurate.

What if I had ignored the fact that I knew something was wrong with my heart?  What if I had listened to that doctor who told me I “shouldn’t” be fainting?  There is a good chance I would have had another Sudden Cardiac Arrest, and there’s a good chance I wouldn’t have been as lucky as the first one, when it happened in the Emergency Room.  I could have been running.  I could have been in the middle of the grocery store.  I could have been any number of places where there were no AEDs readily available, and when your heart stops beating and  you stop breathing, you don’t have much wiggle room as far as time.

. . . get to know your body.  Listen to it.  Nourish it.  Marvel at its complexity.  Revel in your cycles, your fluids, your twinges and feelings.  Rediscover your own awesome, natural power.  So that when the moment comes you know your body as well as an old friend who’s sentences you finish, and you know the right decision, because truly you are the person most qualified then to make it.

This is scary for a lot of us with a history of eating disorders.  We spent years trying not to feel anything, denying our bodies in any way possible, treating our bodies as enemies.  Part of recovery is allowing yourself to learn the beautiful curves of your body, the way that bump on your wrist aches in the cold, the way the hair on your arms sort of stands up when you get cold, the way your feet cramp after a day of driving, the way you shoulders tense while having a difficult conversation.  Learn every single nook and cranny of your body and name it as your own.

Rediscover your natural, awesome power.  It’s there, inside each and every one of us, waiting for us to claim it.

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July 3, 2010 - Posted by | Eating Disorders, health, heart | , , , , , , , , , ,

8 Comments »

  1. Great post and so true on all levels. I took a great class called Sociology of Medicine and we had a lot of discussion on hospitals as an institution and the imperfect science etc. I really recommend you read the book Complications if you have not done so already. I am blanking on the author but he is an incredible writer and writes for the New York Times, went to Harvard Medical School and is a practicing surgeon. The book is incredible. I believe he has written a couple other ones which I definitely want to read.

    Comment by Jessica | July 3, 2010 | Reply

    • It’s by Atul Gawande. He also wrote Better, which is amazing. So I will definitely have to check out Complications. I’ve seen it, but haven’t gotten it yet. But my dissertation is on medical writing, so this is a good book to buy!

      Comment by surfacingaftersilence | July 3, 2010 | Reply

  2. I just decided to test my body to see how he handles food/sports (more food – less sports, see my blog). Especially after my spleen-surgery. It scares me a lot to “listen to my body’s needs” but there is no other way to find out what he needs/ manages. How “it” reacts.

    I love the t-shirt, it really makes me Th I Nk.

    Comment by Kat | July 3, 2010 | Reply

  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jennifer , Jennifer . Jennifer said: I had to share this beautiful post about embracing your body written by a friend, openly blogging about her… http://fb.me/B1WJPRIn […]

    Pingback by Tweets that mention “Your natural, awesome power” « Surfacing After Silence -- Topsy.com | July 3, 2010 | Reply

  4. ?Your natural, awesome power?…

    I found your entry interesting do I’ve added a Trackback to it on my weblog :)…

    Trackback by Mental Disorders 101 | July 3, 2010 | Reply

    • thank you, by the way. I’m honored to be be linked there.

      Comment by surfacingaftersilence | July 4, 2010 | Reply

      • thank you again. Couldn’t figure out how to contact you on your site, but I added you to my blogroll

        Comment by surfacingaftersilence | July 7, 2010

  5. Hi Alexis-
    I just wanted to let you know that I absolutely love your blog. I check it everyday and get so excited when you have a new post up.

    I know you’ve mentioned Sheppard Pratt before in some of your posts- I was once inpatient/PHP at SP and it saved my life, but everyday continues to be a struggle. So, I just wanted to say thanks for writing so many insightful and helpful posts. Please keep it up! 🙂

    Comment by Anon | July 4, 2010 | Reply


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