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When Taking Steroids Makes You Lose Your Self-Esteem

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“Ugh. I look like a puffy sausage,” I said to myself as I looked in the mirror.

One of the not-so-amazing side effects of prednisone is weight gain.

Another common side effect of prednisone and chronic illness is swelling. And boy, do I sure have both.

My prednisone cheeks give meaning to the term “moon face.”
My thyroid is so enlarged, I’m sure bullfrogs would envy my purple-tinted fingers.
Yes, I have “sausages” for fingers, and stretch marks that look like tiger stripes plastered all over my body.
And don’t even get me started on the “cankle” situation.

I have lots of added weight for no apparent reason, except my chronic prednisone use. And when my idiopathic thrombocytopenia purpura (ITP) flared, I was put on dexamethasone  a very powerful steroid with awful effects). Even though I was so sick I couldn’t even look at food, I still gained 15 pounds.

For a couple months, I had been the heaviest and puffiest I’ve ever been — and I never felt so unattractive. I’m a girl who has always preached “body confidence,” especially for those of us who are young. I’d preach to girls, all ages and sizes, to “love the body that you’re in, no matter what the size.”

But I had always been 6”1, and built like a beanpole.

For the first time in my life, I wasn’t society’s view of beauty.

When I saw women in commercials and in magazines, I didn’t see women who looked like me. I saw skinny women who looked like they’d never been on steroids, or had health issues, and made it look like they followed a diet consisting only of kale.

And all of these images, along with my own body issues after prednisone, hit my confidence like a sledgehammer.

I’ve found myself looking in the mirror staring at my stomach in distaste, dressing so I could hide “problem” areas.

Sucking in for every photo.

Praying for the pounds to go away.

I slowly became the type of girl I always strived not to be – the one who was consumed with her appearance. Because I finally understood what she felt like.

But  recently,  my chronic illness was been in a mighty flare and reared its ugly head. I hadn’t been this sick in a long time.
Last month, after every meal, I  spent my time “worshiping the porcelain Goddess.” I was unable to keep even the blandest of foods or simplest of liquids down.

And during that time, did I think of my weight?

No. I prayed for “that piece of bread to please stay down.”

I’ve desperately searched for candy when I could feel my blood sugar plummet, and hoped it would stay down long enough to make a difference.

I’ve force-fed myself, trying to conquer waves of nausea, which made even my favorite foods taste horrid.

I’ve held on to my Gatorade with a death-like grip, knowing right now it’s probably my main source of nutrition.

This last month, food no longer become this thing of guilt. Instead, it was a tool I needed for survival.

Chronic illness can control every part of your body, and change even your physical appearance. You can go from looking like a beanpole to a “puffy sausage,” and you have absolutely no say in the matter, because your body and illness are in control.

During this flare, I remembered who I was three years ago –a girl dependent on IVs for nutrition, wasting away. A girl who sometimes I’ve honestly tried to forget.

And today, while hooked to an IV, I realized how much I had let her down, because I’d forgotten what she taught me.

That for me, calorie counting will never be more important then the amazing ability to just have calorie intake. The only time I should “watch what I eat,” is when I’m staring with gratitude at the full plate before me,  grateful for the full stomach I’ll have after.

In my world, it doesn’t matter what size you are. It matters how good you feel.

My body is so much more than a fashion statement. It’s so much more than society’s view of beauty.

Sure it’s broken, etched with dents and scars, full of irreparable damage.

But it’s the vehicle that will get me through this life.

Because of it, I can laugh, I can sing,  I can hold a friend when they cry. I can create.

And I get to continue to live.

What my body can do, especially given what it’s been through, is far more beautiful and important than what my body looks like.

I finally remembered that truth when I looked into the mirror tonight. And I couldn’t help but meet my reflection with a smile.
megan smiling, with an IV in her arm

Originally published: May 22, 2019
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