There are two people in the mirror looking back at me. I see the me of years ago… before the surgeries, before the Predinose weight, before this illness ravaged my once beautiful body. I see my once graceful curves, full breasts, sinewy muscles. I see smooth, unblemished skin. I see a face graced with high cheek bones, and my crowning glory, a mane of hair that honors my Leo birthright.
But then I glance away, only for a second. But a second is all it takes. And the veil is lifted. Now looking back at me is this Rubanesque form, filled with mars and scars. An abdomen curved gently into my once proud hip bones is now a patch work of put together pieces. My belly button is all but lost amongst the vertical scar that tracks its path from my sternum to my pubis. There are angry slash marks running across my belly, scars and “striations” chasing each other, competing to see who will get to the other side first. My hip bones are now buried beneath a belly that no longer has any abdominal muscles (there are only so many times you can cut through connective tissue before it no longer knits together). My face reflects the “moon-ism” of long term Predinose (*steroid) use; the oval shaped now rounded and puffed out, making my eyes and mouth appear small and timid. And my once straight, full hair has agreed to join the revolt, each day becoming curlier and curlier. Which would be a nice change, right? Except that it is only curly in the certain areas on my head!?!
So which woman is the “real” me? I walk proudly like I am still the woman that was once told should be a model (and, of course, never believed at the time! Sigh.). But then I see myself in pictures and I wonder in shock, “Who is that bloated version of me? Must be the angle right? Or the lighting? Something?!” And all I want to do is cry. Weep for the person I was and have lost. For all the things illness has stolen from me: years lost; weight gained; my dignity, my self-esteem, my sexuality. My identity.
But, wait. That would be saying my entire identity was wrapped up in my external looks. And it never was; that’s why I also didn’t see myself as “model material.” I walk proudly because of my internal strength and light. Which leaves me even more confused than before; I still don’t feel like my insides match my outsides.
It’s hard not to let invasive, ill-thought out comments from well-meaning friends become ear worms. Wriggling themselves into my brain only to be repeated over and over again. Statements such as: “Oh, wait until you see her when she’s all better, loses the weight and is back to her ‘old self.’” And, “Gosh, you were so beautiful.” Or, “You don’t ‘carry yourself’ like an overweight person.” What the heck is that one supposed to mean?
And, perhaps I don’t carry myself like “an overweight person.” And I’m glad. Because my first instinct when I rapidly put on all this weight (*) was to bury it under loose fitting clothes. But that approach only made me feel worse. At least when I put on a flowy maxi skirt and colorful top, I feel more like my true self. I am no longer trying to hide myself anymore. I try to counteract all the negative feelings. I use positive self-talk. I remind myself that the same scars that have patched me into pieces saved my life! I was once proud of that vertical mid-line scar, calling it my life line and the rest, a road map to Survival. I’ve started using a body-image technique post shower that a friend shared with me. First off, I stay naked as long as I can and then I apply lotion lovingly to each part of my body, thanking it while I do so (“Thank you, feet, for supporting me; I love your beautifully painted toes!,” etc.). I put healthy food into my system and ride my stationary bike and/or walk everyday (unless bedridden).
All these approaches are positive and important. But, while writing this painful post, I’ve realized that this is not the most important step in my self-image recovery:
I need to focus on my insides. To recognize that I was out last night and was approached by half a dozen friends who interrupted my conversations, just because they didn’t want to leave without giving me a hug. These women genuinely told me how beautiful I looked. And all of that was not in response to weight, or smoothness of skin; it was in response to my inner light radiating my outer self. The same light that always made me appear “beautiful.” People respond to me not for what I look like, but for whom I am. And if I let the negative thoughts override all of this, I will close myself off like a clam shell, turning inward in a protective pose. When one is on the defensive, they are no longer approachable. And that has always been one of my greatest gifts. I refuse to let this illness take that away from me! I will not give it that power.
I am a beautiful woman. An Amazonian Goddess, whose perseverance and tenacity have given her the fortitude to win many a battle. I radiate with the stunning light of my Soul Beacon that transmutes Hope and Positive Energy to others. People are attracted to me for who I am. And, if I really want to think about it, illness has only strengthened these qualities in me, certainly not stealing any of them away! It’s okay for me to mourn the pieces that have been stolen from me and my life. But after mourning, comes a Celebration of Life… a celebration of the life I live today, of the woman I choose to be.
*MORE INFORMATION ON THE SIDE-EFFECTS OF LONG TERM PREDNISONE (STEROID) USE:
Outlines all the (ill) effects of long term or high dose usage (weight, hair, striations- the whole gamut!). For me? Went right down the list. Check, check… and, check!
Discussion board with testimonials on individual’s experience with Prednisone induced weight gain: