Illness May Change Your Body, but It Will Never Detract From Your Beauty
I had the opportunity to look at some old pictures of myself from 2008 or so, maybe 2009. And when I look at the smiling girl posing for the camera in a black dress, ready for her first formal party, it was inevitable to wonder where she had gone. I remember that day clearly, because I attended a party where my first “teenage crush” was, who later became my boyfriend. I remember feeling pretty.
And then, life happened. I went to the bathroom and undressed myself. I saw the pounds I had gained in six years of taking psychiatric medication. I saw the stretch marks from the time about a year ago in which my appetite went away completely, thanks to a very severe depressive episode, and then I gained back some weight quickly, in a 15-day period, thanks to a medication I was given in order to regulate my eating habits.
Since then I have these lines on my arms, and they always remind me of that episode. I saw my body, from my face to my legs, full of open, bleeding, little wounds, and dark spots that tell my struggle with skin-picking. I saw my joints, how on that day my left ones looked like grapes and tennis balls instead of…joints. I compared my two hands in front of me and they looked like they belonged to different people. That brought me to my nails, bitten off thanks to my constant anxiety. I lowered my head and saw my swollen feet and mysterious bruises, and thanked fibromyalgia for that. Finally I combed my hair back in a ponytail, and I saw this little bald spot making his way out, as my whole back and the floor was full of fallen hairs thanks to alopecia.
I remember my last bald spot, a year ago. It was the size of a coin. Funny how memory works, because I could only recall two things: how my psychiatrist told me it was normal because of my mental health state, and how a friend told me, “Why are you making such a big deal about it? Complain when you have half a bald head or something. That’s nothing.” I smiled and covered my new spot that showed my white scalp between my black hairs.
Finally, I saw a video on Instagram about a woman doing a yoga position that seemed only achievable with magic. I thought of how my yoga performance had decayed, and how I can only do it now with help of gadgets that the elderly and myself use. As my mind wanders fast, I thought about flexibility and resistance, things I can’t find in myself any longer. I asked myself what the arthritis community would think about Kama Sutra, because when you feel like the tin man from “The Wizard of Oz,” it’s unthinkable, and I laughed. Thank God I make myself laugh at least.
As I dressed up, I grabbed my cane and smiled again. I don’t use it daily, but thanks to arthritis I use it much more frequently than I used to when only fibromyalgia was in the house. And despite my health, I’ve had boyfriends and I’ve been called pretty. I feel pretty most of the time. Not like before, but still. I recalled a TV show – in Spanish it’s called “Quiéreme como soy.” The literal translation would be “love me like I am” (I haven’t found the title in English). It’s about how people with chronic conditions look for love. And it’s hard.
I’m not at the same place as the people on the show because my disabilities are not there 24/7. My scars can be covered, I have most of my hair, and so on. But we live in a world in which attraction, which is the first step in a relationship, comes through the eyes. And many people might not equate a cane, a wheelchair, scars, bald spots, etc. as “sexy” or “hot” – or even pretty. But at the end of the day, aren’t we all looking for someone to love? No matter what conditions you may or may not have.
Then, at the end of that day, I saw myself again. I saw my eyes, which are finally sparkling again after a period in which they were filled with absolute sadness. I saw a smile, not as white as I could ask for (thanks for that, Coca-Cola), but one that pops up very frequently, especially as someone who has chronic depression. I saw my cheeks, red again, because I’m eating properly and going out. I saw my curves, and I dig them! I saw my self-harm scars and kissed them, because they remind me of who I am and they are part of my story. They helped me to build the lady I am today, and I’m proud. I saw my unevenly swollen joints, and am thankful that at least my whole body isn’t swollen – my condition usually leaves me with one painful side and one useful side.
And I saw myself as beautiful. As a whole. I played “Unwritten” and started dancing. Because thankfully, that day, I could dance without feeling too much pain.
Harder than accepting your flaws is doing it in a public space where you can’t hide. But the benefit I pursue is greater, and it’s to remind all of those warriors out there that you are beautiful and worthy of all the love in the world. Because there’s nothing prettier than a strong soul that fights daily.
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