Here is a write-up I have been meaning to post on the blog since mid-2017, but what with the injury there was a lot on my plate. But like I always say, better late than never.
Although most of 2017 was pretty difficult, there were some important life lessons that I picked up on and my personal body positive journey saw some amazing changes. That I need to be reminded of as I struggle right now with chronic pain and injury recovery.
While being active on the blog and social media was really fun and fulfilling for most parts of the years 2014-2016, there were some unfortunate side effects on my psyche and body positivity. As affirming as it was to be lauded for my advocacy, I realised that I was falling into habits from the past due to some unpleasant interactions online.
When I was bombarded by thousands of emails, messages, comments that harshly critiqued my work and appearance (mostly that), I began to hide. Hide from showing unabashed imagery and writing – let me just say that your specific brand of body positivity need not be loud, need not be about showing your body – but loud is always how my activism is done, and not for performative activism.
I found myself avoiding mirrors, hiding indoors and not wanting to meet people at all. I would break down at every negative comment and I would find myself thinking hateful comments towards my body while I posed for blog shoots. I stayed in bed almost all of the time. It angered me that I was so weak and vulnerable that I would fall into these old habits but lets be honest: Its only been 6 years since I really worked on body positivity and I was bound to experience some lows.
It wasn’t as if I had completely spiralled to who I was before Curves Become Her but I found myself not believing a lot of what I preached. So I took a blog hiatus from the end of 2016 and the rest, is history. I needed to take care of my health, as I have been living with chronic health conditions from a very young age. What may be a regular day for you will probably take me a few days to recover from. When I did push myself in the past to live like everyone else, I would fall extremely ill after. With my previous injuries, with the PCOS and endometriosis becoming pretty unbearable from my late 20’s and a resurgence of asthma attacks thanks to adult chickenpox, I had also become a lot more introverted and house bound because of the inability to do the things I used to love without fearing a recurrence of illness or injury, or god forbid testing my allergies.
When I fell to the floor after injuring the knee from dancing last year, I knew this was a serious fall. As I waited for the ambulance to arrive, I sobbed so hard worried about what the doctors were going to tell me. Flashbacks to my injuries in 2004 and 2006 scared me even more. I was also in major denial, hoping this was not as bad as I was imagining it to be.
My knee specialist Dr Lee is an odd cookie but he is empathic and honest. He was very honest about what was required for recovery – naturally, I weeped while he told me I had to undergo surgery followed by a year of physiotherapy. In fact right after that appointment he sent me for physiotherapy immediately. He was unhappy I seemed so comfortable in the wheelchair. So my therapist got me using crutches, tears running down my face and all that very day. I was a bawling baby during this injury aiyayai.
This was the first time in a Long time since I had found myself in a gym setting. I have a history of orthorexia and to wean off the obsession that came with exercise, I had stopped exercising for quite a number of years. The damn rehab facility gym had a mirror on one whole wall where I had no choice but to look at myself while I rode the stationary bike, while I pumped some iron, did balance exercises and stretches. I was so shy during the first few sessions, I turned up at physio wearing t shirt dresses. This was Pre-surgery Aarti.
Post-surgery however, I found it ridiculous to even think about pithy things like being bashful in the physio gym. I was IN CONSTANT PAIN and I stared at my knees more than I ever had because I had to ice, stretch and watch my knee while it worked the bicycle, while I walked with crutches. There was no time for self loathing. I HAD to focus my everything on healing, staying as positive as I could despite the pain and discomfort.
It dawned on me a month post-op while I was sweating it out with the damn balance balls (they gave me hell, my balance has always been way off) as I looked up at my red, sweaty, pain-filled but triumphant face in the mirror: I hadn’t obsessed about my body, my eating habits, my reflection in the gym mirror for a month and I was actually in a gym without any obsessive thoughts running through my head.
Two months into living with my new knee at the folks place I decided it was time to return home and it was really scary because some parts of my apartment like my bathroom weren’t as accessible but I knew I had to brave it out. Plus, I missed my bed and my fur babies so much! That first night back home was so peaceful.
A few weeks into my return home however, I was saddled with the flu and my breathing was too ragged – I had to make another trip to the hospital and be on the nebuliser multiple times because I had sustained a pretty gnarly asthma attack. That took about 2 months to get over! I was so angry because I was in a good place mentally and emotionally. I tentatively started physiotherapy again 2 months later and braved my sessions alone, without assistance from my sister or husband. Admittedly, there were a few sessions where I cried very hard because of the pain and I was angry at my co-existing conditions affecting my recovery process.
I was still thriving though, in terms of improvement in mobility and I even signed myself up at a gym nearby so that I could work on my mobility more than my once weekly physiotherapy sessions. And it was going great! I was so surprised at how easygoing I was at the gym and with the only expectations being, improving my mobility and unwinding from the worries that plague me daily. It was Me time and I felt so blessed to be able to walk unaided, with more confidence.
My immunity was still struggling however and once again I found myself in the hospital struggling with an asthma attack. My sciatica was also beginning to wreck havoc every time I went for physiotherapy or the gym. It was difficult to stay positive and hopeful, but I really really tried. I gave it my all for a good 6 months or even longer.
By the end of the year however, my morale was very low and I experienced a depressive episode. It just felt like nothing was going okay and the medical, physical struggles were getting out of hand. I had a particularly harrowing sciatica flare one day and sought help from a clinic nearby. The appointment was going well until he decided to suggest bariatric surgery aka gastric sleeve surgery. I shut down and stopped talking. Tears began to stream down my face as I headed home, feeling more hopeless and helpless than I had ever been.
I ended up being bedridden most of November, December and although the holiday season was wonderful.. I felt my strong body positive experience that year begin to wane. Since the new year has begun, I have decided to seek a specialist for treatment for my back and then find another physiotherapist who will help me with my sciatica and knee rehab – while my therapist was amazing at what she did, I did constantly tell her how much pain I was in with my back and she only focused on the knee. Which I know was her priority, but my back trouble is an important priority too.
I am not going to let myself fall into the same old patterns of self loathing. While I certainly do not subscribe to diet culture, movement and physical activity for me is no longer part of that culture. It is an essential part of my healing, my ongoing rehabilitation and it sure helps me blow off steam. There is no need to cower out of embarrassment as I walk into the gym just because my body does not look like any of the rest. Just because I limp. Just because I am afraid of re-injury – thats the whole point of sitting on that stationary bike riding to nowhere!
To be perfectly honest, I know that with the amount of chronic conditions I live with..my morale is bound to swing up and down. I need to watch for triggers and cues that might turn a low morale moment into a depressive episode.
If you find yourself struggling with your body image and self worth as you navigate a life with chronic health conditions, injuries, disability … Its okay to have times when you don’t love yourself or your body. Where you’re in a state of malaise because of pain or illness. What we can work on is not hating ourselves for who and what we are : as arduous as it can be to exist day-to-day. As upsetting and angering as it can be on some days. That we are still here, fighting and surviving everyday. And that counts for something.
It’s funny how the injury actually revived me in ways I never thought I could feel about myself. Through the pain and the discomfort, I felt more alive than I ever had. I had to pay attention and be kind to myself, and that despite the other obstacles and setbacks that came my way, there were some major breakthroughs:
I started wearing shorts again without flinching or wincing or feeling shy. Jeans or Pants were not an option until much later into recovery.
I was too busy recovering to bother about who was staring at me in the gym. And everyone is so busy doing their thing! My fears were unfounded. Sure I got the odd look or two but I was expecting that. A marginalised body will always be regarded with derision or skepticism.
This was the first Christmas season I allowed myself to enjoy the feasts instead of feel shy to eat among loved ones.
I may be struggling emotionally right now but that is because I don’t want to live in fear anymore and I am trying to fight back. And be as patient as I possibly can with waiting to see my back and knee specialists and therapists in February (damn these waiting lists and damn the strain on finances).
This is me today:
I choose Love over Hate. I choose doing things that make me happy, to help me recover and keep me going instead of be embarrassed by my reflection in the mirror or be angry with myself.
I refuse to give in to years of hating everything about myself. I deserve better. I am worthy of happiness, love, better health. I choose not to hide in the shadows. I have better things to do than to be fazed by empty words because some people are daunted by someone who no longer fears living her life, existing in her body, with all its abilities and limitations.
A full face of makeup or not, this is me and I don’t hate what I see. This is a reminder because as I feel discouraged by the lows of last year, and the pain that I experience as I type this out, it doesn’t mean that I will not recover and that my chronic pain and injuries will not be worked on.
This is a reminder to stay soft, silly and strong.
To keep Hope alive.
To have faith in myself and the process.