Why I Stopped Loving My Body For What It Could Do
I chased building the perfect looking body for a lot of years and when I still struggled to like myself or my body, no matter how much I changed how it looked, I started trying to love it for what it could do rather than what it looked like. And my therapist used to tell me "you don't handle distress well". Every time he'd say that, the wiseass in me would think "You don't say, Caption Obvious" ...as I'd bawl my way through the conversation. As I kept training and getting physically stronger I started noticing that it was making me feel emotionally stronger. I was still struggling to love, or even like, how my body looked but I was definitely noticing that the more I could do physically, the more it helped me with that "handling distress" thing he talked about and while I may not have loved it, I at least was starting to appreciate the things it could do. So, this notion of loving my body for what it could do rather than how it looked became my mantra. Pulling a couple hundred pounds up off the floor makes you feel pretty badass and ready to take on the world and I was starting to at the very least appreciate my body for being able to do that. But relying on my body for emotional strength caused me to abuse it pretty badly with over exercise. Well, it was one of the reasons I abused it with over exercise. There were a few. The more emotional distress I felt, the more (and harder) I'd exercise. With that abuse, came over use injuries. My knees and shins first. My SI joint. My ankles. My shoulder, back and neck. Pretty much everything that I could wear out, I did. The shoulder, neck and back ones were the worse and ultimately derailed my ability to train at all for a long time. Which brings me to why I no longer think we should rely on this notion of loving our bodies for what they can do -- or least not rely on that as the ONLY reason we love and appreciate them. Because if the only reason you love your body is because it can lift so much weight, or bend into certain poses, or run certain distances, what happens if something happens to keep it from being able to do those things? And if you're trying to build emotional strength through what your body can do, for its physical strength or the exercise you do, what happens to that emotional strength if you're no longer able to pick up that couple hundred pounds or run that distance or bend into that pretzel pose?
I'll tell you exactly what happens: Depression. Anxiety. Panic. I've written about my eating disorder history a few times but #BellLetsTalk day feels like a great time to confess the other demons I've battled that I really, really, really haven't ever wanted to talk about. When my injuries got so severe that I had to start listening to my body and stop training for a while, depression, anxiety and panic attacks hit me hard. HARD. The therapist was right -- I didn't handle distress well and without the only thing I was relying on to help, it got insufferable fast and stayed that way for a really long time. So, I had to start learning to love, or even like my body (and myself) ...for no reason. Just because. Not because of what it looked like. Not because of what it could do. But just because... period. Because it just is. Because it's mine. Because it's the little piece of the universe that I've been given to spend my life in and that alone makes it pretty friggen special. It never deserved the hate and abuse I'd been piling on it. And I had to learn to handle distress better, to build actual emotional strength -- because that doesn't fade. True emotional strength can't be taken away or lost. But it's way harder to build than physical strength. At least for me it has been. It's a process that I'm sure I'll be working on my whole life, though it's slowly been getting better, little by little, month by month, year by year. The stupidest thing about it for me is that I've never judged another person for their struggles with depression or anxiety, ever... but I've judged the hell out of myself for it all. Something that I can have extreme empathy and compassion for in someone else, I've hated, criticized and judged myself for. Because isn't that what we do? One of the things that was a game changer for me in terms of learning to live with it was self-compassion. Depression, anxiety and panic disorders are unbelievably isolating. They create a lot of shame and self-loathing which only exacerbates it all. They lie and make you believe things about yourself that aren't true. They make the simplest acts of daily life feel completely insurmountable and then they make you judge and criticize yourself when you can't do them. Meditation, gratitude, mindfulness, movement and self-compassion have become my lifeline. I'm happier than I've ever been in my life -- just because I'm choosing happiness now rather than chasing all the things I thought would bring me happiness, like I used to. Sometimes I even feel like I've "cured" myself from it all. But it still sneaks back in from time to time. I'm starting to think that's just how it goes -- that one is never completely "cured" from depression, anxiety or panic -- but I don't dwell on it because I've learned to accept it. Or at least I'm learning to. I've learned to manage it. I've learned that it doesn't define me. I've learned that it doesn't diminish my worth as a person. I've learned that, even at its worse, I can survive it -- that no matter how long set backs last, they always pass. Eventually.