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Embracing the 'New You' After Illness Changes Your Body

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Everyone wants to present the best version of themselves. We all have an image of how we’d like to look, and often the image in our minds falls short of the reality we see in the mirror.

Of course some mirrors give a very distorted view. I have in my home what I call “nice and naughty” mirrors. The nice mirrors reflect a slimmer version than the naughty mirrors. The latter seem to squash and expand my naturally ever-growing body. A distorted view I definitely don’t need to see.

A Tricky Discussion

I always feel discussing weight is like skating on thin ice. It’s so often the elephant in the room. A skinny person at a social occasion will be heard saying how “fat” they feel while standing next to someone who just signed up for a weight loss program.

We can all be insensitive every once in a while — sometimes without even trying.

I don’t want to talk about weight loss in this “weighty” conversation article.

I want to talk about battling disabling chronic illness. The kind where you have no choice but to take a meal full of medications every day. All of which cause weight gain or weight loss, even if you attempt a “healthy” diet.

I’m talking about the debilitating kind of chronic illness which takes away the ability for physical exercise, no matter how hard you try to stick to any kind of movement regime.

I’m talking about the debilitating kind of chronic illness which makes you so sick, you are underweight and unable to get into a healthy weight range.

How do we manage living with these kinds of chronic diseases and adjust to the physical changes accompanying them?

You’re Doing All You Can

I’m on a range of medications renowned for weight gain. I’ll be on these for life. I simply don’t have the option of stopping them and I’m OK with that. I have to be.

My rare disease has no cure or treatment, so palliative care by way of managing symptoms is the extent of what’s on offer. Each of my medications give me a certain quality of life, albeit limited, which is so important to my overall well-being and survival.

These medications have not been without side effects, the most obvious is my weight gain. Part of the weight gain is fluid retention, increased bone density due to my rare bone disease and a redistribution of fat to my abdomen, face and neck due to requiring long-term steroids.

I have been assessed by a dietician. She reviewed all I was eating, my medications, my diseases, my mobility, etc. Her final assessment…

“Sam, you are doing all you can.”

There was nothing I could change. She admired how I pushed through my mobility issues to try and walk around the house or outside a little, and potter with housework.

She admired my eating habits and didn’t change a thing. She even said a weekly sweet treat was not only acceptable but necessary when living with such complex health issues. It’s all about balance and quality of life.

She told me not to focus on how much I weighed at all. It served no purpose. Sometimes, it is what it is for those of us with debilitating chronic disease. If this is you, I want to reach out and let you know, your weight is not a reflection of how well you’re taking care of yourself. You’re doing all you can.

Embracing the New You

If your weight gain or loss is outside of your control, the time has come to embrace the new you.

No point hoping for the “naughty mirror” to suddenly project a different image.

So how can we embrace our new image when we really would prefer to have a slightly better version?

I’ve been grappling with this for months as I continue to grow through no fault of my own. Two weeks ago I decided enough was enough and created an “Embracing The New Me” plan:

  1. Cut my hair short to lessen the new “bald look.”
  2. Removed all my clothes that don’t fit me from my wardrobe. I kept a few items just in case a new med caused sudden weight loss.
  3. Went online shopping and bought some clothes a size bigger than needed so I could be super comfortable on days when my fluid retention was out of control.
  4. I chose tops that were loose fitting but stylish with bright colors or patterns. It was important they were pieces I felt excited about wearing.
  5. I sat down to chat with my husband and asked him to tell me honestly how he felt about the “new me.” He said he could see how my skeleton had thickened as my disease has progressed. He could see how my inflammation and fluid retention changed my look throughout the day, as the overall swelling goes up and down. He told me he still loves me and thinks I’m beautiful. I can’t ask for more than that!

You Are Beautiful, Too

Living with a chronic illness is hard enough without you trying to conform to the goals of others not walking in your shoes.

Don’t be scared to speak to a dietician or your medical team about having the right expectations for you. Once you have your own “Embracing The New Me” plan, you can take unnecessary pressure off yourself. You can then relax, have a greater sense of well-being and focus on enjoying what quality of life activities are within your capabilities.

Above all else, remember this… You are beautiful!

Photo by Charis Gegelman on Unsplash

Originally published: October 14, 2019
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