How I Made It Through the Poor Body Image 'Cyclone' After Limb Amputation
I have yet to meet a new amputee who hasn’t struggled with issues surrounding body image after limb loss. Although I find females tend to be more open about their concerns, male amputees struggle with the same emotions. Unfortunately, these feelings are often expressed in hushed whispers.
My amputation was planned, and I had time to prepare. Because I had done my research and felt confident in my decision, I assumed I would not encounter body image issues. Despite my preparations, I was woefully unprepared and felt completely alone when I found myself spiraling through the poor body image cyclone.
Cognitively, I knew that I should not defined by my limb loss. After all, I was the same person with the same heart, hopes and dreams. I knew that my number of biological feet should not define my worth. Unfortunately, wanting to believe I was unaffected was not enough to make my blanket acceptance a reality.
One of my strongest memories after my amputation was the first time I stood in front of a mirror. With my newly formed limb still wrapped in gauze, I will never forget the shock I felt when I saw my “incomplete” body. I sat back down in the wheelchair and wept. It is a horrible feeling when you feel repulsed by your own reflection.
I began to live a lie. On the surface, I appeared self-confident and fully accepting of my limb loss. I returned to work, was married and appeared happy. In reality, I continued to gasp each time I caught a reflection of the stranger in the mirror. Nobody knew that I was struggling to simply
get through the day. I felt a deep shame each time I was lauded with accolades of strength and inspiration. I felt like a fraud as I was feigning acceptance while secretly continuing to be repulsed and frightened by my new body shape.
I wish I could outline a “body image acceptance” path, but I know that the road to self-acceptance is different for everybody. For me, it took time. I had to work through forgiving myself. Although I wasn’t to blame for my amputation, I harbored a lot of self-loathing because of it. I felt like I
shouldn’t have problems with body image, and that something was wrong with me because I couldn’t just “get over it.”
I believe there is truth in the saying that time heals all wounds. As I learned to live with my limb loss, I slowly became accustomed to my new body shape. I began to forgive myself for feeling ugly, and I began to verbalize the insecurities. By reaching out and putting words behind my feelings, I was minimizing their power. For me, verbalizing these emotions was the first step towards self-acceptance and an emotional recovery.
It has been more than a decade since my amputation, and I finally own the reflection in the mirror. I now see strength and grit where I once only saw loss. I have discovered the empowerment that
comes from surviving and thriving after navigating through such a dark and lonely experience.
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