Learning to Love Your Body

Currently, I’m reading the book Resilient: How to Grow an Unshakable Core of Calm, Strength, and Happiness from the author, Rick Hanson. Under the chapter on Grit, there is a subheading about Vitality where the author addresses the relationship we have with our bodies. It reads:

“If a person doesn’t like his or her body, it’s harder to take good care of it; then vitality declines, and with it, grit and resilience. We need to accept, appreciate, and nurture the body…”

p. 87

I thought I’d share a bit about the new relationship I’ve had to develop with my own body, and hopefully, it will give you permission to be more accepting of your own. 

I’ll discuss the elements of acceptance, appreciation, and nurturance in reverse order and relate them back to my own experiences over the past six months. 

Nurture Your Body

Under the subheading, Nurturing Your Body, the author starts off by stating,

“Physical health is a tremendous aid to resilience, and the most consequential threat to safety are threats to the body.”

p. 91

In a nutshell, ‘health is wealth’. He highlights five areas that contribute to a healthy body: 

  • Eating a nutritious diet
  • Getting a good night’s sleep
  • Exercising regularly
  • Minimizing intoxicants
  • Having regular checkups with your doctor

Now, to most of us, these fives recommendations are simply common sense. But, like most of us, you may have some challenges adhering to some of these especially during a pandemic when stress levels affect eating and sleeping habits, when it’s difficult to exercise while gyms and athletic facilities are closed, and when medicating your blues with a daily glass of wine seems to make perfect sense. 

Alcohol is Not an Option

Maybe it’s a blessing in disguise, but I was instructed by my doctors not to drink for a full year due to an increased risk of seizures because of experiencing bleeding on the brain.

I have to say, when I found out I couldn’t enjoy a glass of wine once I returned home from rehab, and not for a full year on top of that, I was not impressed. But, as I said, perhaps it’s a blessing in disguise so that I don’t fall into the trap of numbing my emotions.

Establish Protective Habits

Although I wasn’t a health nut before my attack, I had developed some protective habits. I walked pretty much daily, and occasionally went dancing and did yoga. I was a non-smoker. I ate a pretty healthy diet by minimizing my sugar intake – I saved my sugar intake for wine 🙂 and I slept pretty well.

There is no doubt that the health of my body contributed to my strength to endure my time spent unconscious, overnight in a creek bed. My body was not competing for resources against existing health problems. 

Since I’ve been home, I continue to nurture my body. I walk almost daily, and I get a lot more sleep than I’m used to, which has been great. While I don’t have a big appetite and have lost my sense of taste and smell, I eat healthily. And as many of you know, I was nurtured and nourished by the meal train for three months.

Allow Yourself the Luxury of Therapy

Another thing I do to nurture my body is weekly sessions of myofascial release therapy.

During those sessions, my therapist spends some of the time massaging my face and my scars. Recently, while she was focusing on my face, I started to cry – tears fell down my cheeks for several minutes. She respectfully just let me cry.

I got emotional because I was reflecting on what she was doing and why. I felt sad, but I also felt tremendously lucky. How lucky was I to be safe and in the comfort of my home being treated with tender-loving-care?

Interestingly, before my attack, I would never have treated myself to this type of therapy. Perhaps you feel the same way. Perhaps the cost is prohibitive, perhaps you’re not comfortable being touched, perhaps you feel selfish taking time for yourself or you simply don’t see the value in touch-based therapy. These are all valid reasons.

If, on the other hand, you’re looking for a way to reconnect with your body and learn to love yourself again, I’d highly recommend this type of therapy.

I’ve discovered areas of weakness that I need to work on, and I’ve experienced areas of progress with my fitness and agility. Going forward, as long as I’m in a position to do so, I will continue to make time to nurture my body this way.

Appreciate Your Body

Body image issues are very common. Perhaps you suffer from these yourself. The author recommends a couple of things to appreciate your body – as is. 

“Imagine your life as a kind of movie, starting when you were very young and moving forward to the present. Watching this movie, see some of the ways that your body has protected and served you. Even if it has had limitations, disabilities, or illnesses, it has still taken care of you in so many ways.”

p. 90

He also encourages you to consider a friend who has a body like yours who may be preoccupied with self-conscious and self-critical thoughts. What compassionate and encouraging things might you say to that friend? Now, say these things to yourself.

So while developing protective habits that nurture your body is advisable, sometimes, due to circumstances, we must simply learn to appreciate the body we have – and like the author said, see some of the ways it has protected and served you already. 

My Body Has Protected and Served Me

A Punctured Lung, Hypothermia, and Four Cardiac Arrests

Some of the ways my body protected and served me after my attack was by continuing to breathe overnight after sustaining a punctured lung from multiple fractured ribs.

Also, according to doctors, I suffered hypothermia but that this was actually protective in that the hypothermia kept my brain from swelling to a fatal extent.

After I was rescued by the first responders, my body endured four cardiac arrests, and although, at one point, I was considered gone, a nurse in the ER discovered that I still had a pulse. My heartbeat was brought back for the fourth time. It wasn’t until after the fourth cardiac arrest that I was deemed able to be flown to the trauma hospital. 

A Coma and Perceived Global Brain Damage

At the trauma hospital, my body protected and served me by hanging onto life after being placed in a coma.

Prior to being placed in a coma, a brain scan revealed that I had suffered global brain damage – essentially, I would be a vegetable.

Prior to undergoing reconstructive jaw surgery, the medical team conducted a second brain scan to determine if it even made sense to do the surgery.

The second brain scan revealed I had no brain damage. My body protected and served me, again. 

Multiple Undiscovered Head Lacerations

Interestingly, my body protected and served me by enduring a serious head wound for almost two weeks.

When I was first brought to the hospital, my body was essentially evidence, so the nurses were unable to bathe me. Once they were able to, one of the nurses told my husband she was going to try and wash my hair, which was a matted, nested mess from spending the night in a creek bed.

That’s when they discovered multiple lacerations on the back of my head. The wounds had started to heal themselves by that point, and so I never received stitches. I wasn’t really aware of the extent of the wounds but just knew that every night, a nurse would spend about 10 minutes attending to the back of my head.

I remember one night asking one of the nurses about it, and she asked, would you like to see a picture. I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of that before, but yes, I did want to see a picture. My husband took a picture of the healing wounds, and my jaw dropped.

I think what really shocked me when I saw the picture was the huge bald spot. Why had I lost so much hair and how on earth did I not bleed out that night from so many lacerations?

Again, my body protected and served me. Perhaps my hair created a barrier and protected the wounds. Perhaps the hypothermia prevented me from bleeding out too much. I really don’t know. But I was grateful. And luckily, the bald spot has started to fill in – the hair has begun to grow back. 

Helping Me Walk Again

While in rehab, I had to regain the ability to walk again. Perhaps, you too, have had to regain the ability to do things you once took for granted. It’s a very strange experience.

I remember walking the floor of the rehab centre, first with a walker, then without the walker but by the side of the physiotherapist. She would observe me and remind me to relax my shoulders and straighten up. I was in protective mode, half expecting to fall at any minute, and attempting to make myself smaller. But in those moments, I remember feeling appreciative. I could walk – I would never take that for granted again – and I would continue to get stronger by nurturing my body. 

Accept Your Body

We’ve discussed appreciating how your body has already protected and served you and ways to nurture your body. Now let’s look at acceptance. This is a tough one, but the author shares some insightful reflections.

“To have more acceptance of your body, start by bringing to mind some people you like and respect. How much does the way they look matter to you? Probably very little. Also think about meeting new people. How long does it take to get past how they look to a deeper sense of them? Probably less than a minute. We worry about what others are thinking about how we look, but usually they are thnking about it about as much as we are thinking about their appearance…not much at all!”

p. 88

Are You a Victim of Abuse?

There is no doubt that some of you have been victims of abuse. Perhaps people that you thought loved you or that you trusted, used emotional manipulation to humiliate you by drawing attention to perceived flaws in your appearance or abilities.

While I’m not a mental health professional and would encourage you to lean on the expertise of one, one thing is certain. Your abuser does not represent the perspective of most decent, kind, and supportive human beings.

Sometimes, it takes time to find your tribe – the people who have your back no matter what and accept you unconditionally. Have faith that your tribe exists and that you are worthy and loveable just the way you are. 

I am very fortunate to have the love of a husband who has stood by my side and been accepting of the different changes I’ve gone through over the months. He’s been more accepting of me than I have been of myself, at times.

My Work Prior to the Attack was Public-Facing

Prior to my attack, most of the work I was engaged in involved public-facing initiatives. Whether that was attending networking events with my business, recording videos, teaching, or auditioning for tv commercials, my appearance was on display. 

When I was in the hospital and would walk past the mirror in the washroom, I would often avoid making eye contact with myself or looking in the mirror.

The appearance of my face was a bit of shock to me. It was very swollen, and I had a lot of nerve damage and new scars.

I don’t have many pictures of my time in the hospital, but I did ask my husband to take a picture to remember this part of my healing.

When you compare the picture I had on social media at that time against what was essentially my new face – it was very discouraging, to say the least. I didn’t know how long it would take to heal and if I would ever look the same again.  

Pivotal Moments in Accepting My Appearance

There were a couple of pivotal moments in learning to accept my new appearance. One pivotal moment was when I went to the dentist for a check-up and to investigate having a wisdom tooth pulled.

I had x-rays done, and this was the first time I came face to face with the injuries to my jaw.

I snuck a picture of the x-ray because I was intrigued by what I saw. Seeing the x-ray actually helped me to understand my face better. I was able to understand my scars and the misalignment of my teeth.

My jaw was shattered and broken in two places, and so there were two plates put in place to mend the brakes and hold the jaw together again. It really helped me to see the plates because it helped me to understand the injuries better.

Unfortunately, for my teeth to be realigned and to be able to chew normally again, my jaw will need to be rebroken after one year of healing. This is a decision I have yet to make.

The Reality of Nerve Damage

Later, in a follow up with the neurologist, I remember asking her what now I understand is a really dumb question. I asked her when the anaesthetic was going to wear off – basically, when would my face stop feeling numb and when would my smile stop drooping on one side.

She looked at me puzzled and said, “That’s not anaesthetic, that’s nerve damage.” I laugh now, but at the time, I felt deflated. 

As someone whose main activities – pre-attack – centred around making videos, I had to make a decision. Would I stop making videos until if/when my face got back to normal, essentially hiding my imperfections from the public, or would I continue to make videos and just accept my new face?

Well, I decided to continue making videos – and to make videos about developing resilience. I’m sure in many respects, this is healing for me, but I also hope in some small way, I can help you, too. 

Accepting Changes to My Face

So what are some of the changes to my face?

Well, first of all, I’ve lost the expression lines on one side of my forehead due to nerve damage. Interestingly, I only discovered this while I was in rehab.

I tried to feel a bit more normal during the day by putting on a bit of makeup in the mornings. I went to apply makeup to my right eye and discovered that my eyelid didn’t lift up – I had to physically stretch the skin in order to apply makeup to my eyelid.

So, now, if I make an expression using my forehead, only one side is expressive.

Another issue I have is that I have limited feeling in the bottom of my face, again due to nerve damage, so my smile is not even and one side of my smile droops a bit.

The nerve damage on the one side of my face has caused a bit of an indent in my left cheek so that the left side of my face isn’t even.

My plastic surgeon said she can do a fat injection by taking fat from another part of my body.

Also, the facial nerve damage in addition to the misalignment of my teeth, causes me to lisp a bit when I talk.    

I’m seeing a speech pathologist who helps me with vocal and speaking exercises. It turns out that I now only have a vocal range of one and a half octaves, whereas, the normal vocal range is two and a half octaves. This means I can’t scream or raise my voice. It also means I can’t sing – well, not very well at least. Luckily, there was no direct damage to my vocal chords.

The Bottom Line

Having shared all of that, ultimately what I want to say, is that I accept that this is the new me. I also learned that nerves repair very slowly and that I have to give myself at least one year to heal before giving up on a full recovery.

In the meantime, life must go on, so here I am, writing and making videos. 

It’s worth revisiting the passage I shared at the beginning of this post by the author on vitality.  

“If a person doesn’t like his or her body, it’s harder to take good care of it; then vitality declines, and with it, grit and resilience. We need to accept, appreciate, and nurture the body…”

p. 87

One of the key takeaways I have from my experience is the importance of taking care of your health and your body. You never know when your body will be put to the test whether it be through an accident, an illness, or some other traumatic experience.

Accepting, appreciating, and nurturing your body will empower you and contribute to your resilience. 

May you find the self-belief to love the body you have and to seek companions who reinforce your value and potential. 

Thanks for reading. B Positive!