ANNOUNCEMENT: Hi everyone! This is Sarah, a friend of Kelley’s, and I wanted to give you all a quick little update! Kelley recently had surgery (she’s totally healthy and good!), but while she’s still recovering, she’s asked me to do a couple of guest blog posts on here for her. While I’m no Homecoming Queen of Crazy Town with sass and fire, I certainly hope that some of my own condensed journey will resonate with you all just as her journey has helped me grow so much. Featured above is a baby picture from Halloween, because Kelley has dubbed me the temporary Princess of Crazy Town.
When I was eight years old, my grandmother told me that if I sucked in my stomach at all times—posture so tense that my back has ached for fourteen years since—the lump of pudge jiggling around my middle would melt back into my spine. It became second nature: I didn’t know how to bend, and soon I held my sorrows like I held my stomach—tucked in.
Going into high school, I decided that posture alone was not enough. I would do whatever it took to eviscerate the fat of my body. As the calories dwindled and the crunches increased, I worked harder. As I ran red-faced and shaking on the old treadmill in our basement, I stared at the wall imagining not a thinner body, but rather one that disappeared completely. For every pound I lost, I found more I could lose, and always still was the inescapable feeling that there was just too much of me.
My mother loves me more than she loves her own life and when I was too far gone to stop myself, she wrapped her arms around me to hold me in place. Through every lie, through every frustration, she loved me harder. She would do this again years later when I was diagnosed with a severe anxiety disorder and chronic depression in college. My mother stood patiently, always, as I swallowed the things that made me whole again—food, medication, and hard truths.
But, no matter what, there was still that feeling. The too much feeling. There is too much of my body, too much emotion, too much that I should be and somehow couldn’t manage to become. I carried it with me as I grew, never sure of how to let it go.
So, the first time that I fell in love, I flinched. Constantly. There was no place he could touch, no arm around my waist at night, no affectionate embrace that didn’t make me wonder if he felt what I felt—did he hate this body, too? Nothing was safe from my self-criticism, and every day it would eat at me until the anxiety of it caused a need for isolation. I let him in just enough to break me down but when he left, I realized that I was stronger than my own hate.
This body, with its marks and scars and heft, carried me when I thought my heart would no longer work. It has carried me further still, through grief and loss, through hardship and pain, through joy and adventure. As I faced the next year alone, I traveled through the slow process of growing up and depended more on the people who see me as I truly am. Through every new mistake and mess that I made, I began to heal. And then, I got really sick.
A month ago, I had surgery to address something called Endometriosis—a chronic pain disease with no cure and a variety of debilitating symptoms. It had always been hard to manage, but at this point in my life it became nearly unbearable. This was the third surgery I’d had for the disease since I was seventeen and the specialist offered me what I didn’t know before: hope.
With skilled excision, there was a chance that I could have a life after recovery. I could be well, and I could live in a body that wasn’t destroying itself every day. I didn’t remember what it was like to live moment to moment without pain and it felt at times that I was fighting wars against the very thing meant to sustain me in this world. So, with the help of those I love, I allowed my body to be a priority for the first time in my life. I tried to mend instead of break.
Now, I stare at those tiny incision scars on my too-soft abdomen and I begin to love them. They are proof that this body is strong.
A friend of mine once tried to explain to me that often, we only see ourselves through a distorted filter; whether it’s about your physical body, your mind, your heart, or your life situation, each of us is only capable of seeing a reflection of the truth and often, the mirror is broken. To be seen as you actually are, you have to look outside of the distortion and through the lens of the people who love you most until you can do so on your own. I am still learning how to do this.
Because the truth is, I’m not there yet. I don’t know if I ever will be. Sometimes, it is necessary to simply accept the fact that we have work to do. It can be terrifying: there is no safety in trying, but there is also no healing in stagnation. Your worth is indelible and it cannot be taken away by failure. All I know is that we must try, and fail beautifully, and try again.