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Body Image and Chronic Health: A two headed beast

This may be a delicate topic for many people but one that I think is commonly overlooked. I think that everyone has experienced a moment where they didn't like how they felt in their own skin or something about themselves, while others have struggled more deeply with this. I do not think this is a gender-specific issue and if my writing ever might imply that I apologize. I hope that anyone who is struggling with these issues knows that they are not alone and there is always someone that you can talk to about these feelings.

Body image can be a difficult topic to deal with all by itself. There are so many factors that play into how an individual sees themselves that there is no single set plan to improve one's body image. I can remember when I was a teenager, spending hours every night looking for articles that I thought would help me with my self-image.

"If only I had that flat stomach or my arms didn't jiggle when I waved, then I will be happy." It's sentences like this that many people who have struggled with body image have thought.

Something that can sometimes get lost is how body image can be amplified by chronic health. If I feel poorly about how I perceive myself and haven't left the house in 3 days or didn't get out of bed before 2 pm, these things are going to compound on one another.

These things can vary between individuals. One of my potentially more unique triggers for poor self-image which tears at my mental health is when I don't shave. This has nothing to do with society or norms... it has to do entirely with me. Generally speaking, the only time I don't shave is when I am pretty ill and don't have the stamina to do so. So when I go periods of time without shaving when I am healthy, it makes me feel unhealthy. It makes me feel like I can't take care of myself. And I have been there. I would wake up and have to decide if I was going to go to the bathroom or eat but it took me too long to decide so I went back to sleep.

Shaving is generally something that is pretty easy to do to avoid having a mental breakdown. For a lot of people, the stressors are not that easy to avoid. Not being able to walk up the stairs to get into the apartment or struggling to open the refrigerator door are slightly harder to avoid. What also is difficult is the not knowing. Will I have a seizure today? Will I be able to make it through this event before my body says it has had enough? If I had a timer that said "you have 2 hours and 17 mins left. use it well" or however much time my body allotted me that day it would be easier than one day being able to walk 5 miles and being fine and another day my body shutting down after 1/4 mile.

It is hard to try and explain to people, well generally people of good health (no offense), that having a chronic illness is more than just that disease itself. It likes to seep into every aspect of your life and one of the biggest is how we tend to see ourselves.

How we want others to see us,

How we want others not to see us,

How we want to see ourselves,

How we don't want to see ourselves...

The mental gymnastics that sometimes go on behind the scene can be daunting for a lot of individuals. This also goes for socializing. It can be difficult to see people and they ask what you have been doing and you really don't have a good answer (or one that isn't what you think is worth sharing or that you want to share). 

Sadly, this doesn't even cover what the chronic illness can do to a person's physical body and how this plays its role.

Chronic illness' come in all shapes and sizes and affect everyone in different ways. I might lose weight while a friend might gain weight. My new meds might make me more active/less active/lose weight/gain weight/become depressed/etc. My chronic illness might be hidden to a bypasser while another might be quite visible. All of these factors play a role in how they affect the individual and their image of themselves.

I, personally, don't want to be seen as my illness.

I get frustrated when people try and baby me because I am "sick" even though I know they just mean well. It is just as frustrating when my chronic conditions are not taken into consideration and people expect me to be able to do what they do just because they can do it. This makes it sound like people can't do anything right and sometimes that's how I feel. I am not saying it is right but I am human and have things to work on as well. I hope this might just be the example needed to inspire better awareness and communication about chronic health conditions and what it does to the people who have them and the people around them.

I could not begin to understand how every person with a chronic condition feels individually and I am not saying that every person feels the same way that I have.

There is something that I can say with pretty good certainty: most people with chronic illness have struggled.

What way they have struggled I cannot say but I would bet money that if you asked and they were comfortable sharing, they would tell you that is has been a struggle. I have known someone who went off their meds, which without them they almost died, so they could have a child they so desperately wanted. I have known people who have spent years fighting with doctors just to be able to get a diagnosis for a disease they knew they had when the doctors said they didn't. Even the struggle of fighting with insurance to make sure that you can get your medications every month or changing insurances or jobs because you don't know if you will be able to get your medications during the transitions can influence people with health issues in their life choices and their everyday life.

I do not have all the answers that I wish I did but I do hope that bringing up this topic can shed some light on a topic that I feel can be overlooked sometimes.

Awareness can sometimes be the strongest catalyst to change.

My suggestion would be:

"Be kind and conscientious because you never know what someone else is going through."

1 thought on “Body Image and Chronic Health: A two headed beast”

  • This was such an interesting post to read. I would like to learn more about chronic illness and find out what people are going through. Nicola

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