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! 

Building Resilience After Being Shunned

Let me start off by saying that the topic of this post may be disturbing and may be uncomfortable for some people to read. This feeling of discomfort is what I’ve been feeling for weeks ever since I started writing my book, entitled, You Know the Rules, named after the infamous response my father gave me when I asked him just over a year ago why he continues to treat me like I don’t exist. 

I promised myself that this website would only share things of value to its visitors in terms of building resilience. Since being resilient relates to the ability to recover from adversity, I’d like to share an area of extreme adversity that I’ve endured for over two decades. And that is abandonment of my father as a result of his adherence to the fundamentalist religion, Jehovah’s Witnesses, that promotes the practice of shunning your children who no longer subscribe to beliefs and practices of that religion. 

A Double Standard

The irony and hypocrisy of my father’s abandonment and strict adherence to his religious principles is that they only appear to apply to me. In fact, all but one of my siblings, also no longer subscribe to the beliefs and practices of the religion, but they are not shunned. Not even the baptized ones who lead what is called by the witnesses “a double life”. It appears they have been spared shunning by taking advantage of loopholes in organizational policies. I can’t say I blame them for living a double life. After all, they’d run the risk of also being shunned by their father. 

To be honest, I’d gotten used to his rejection and mourned the loss of my dad over ten years ago. I remember calling him to inquire about how he was doing after a surgery he had. At that time, he asked me, “When am I going to have a proper relationship with my daughter?” My response was, “Anytime – you just have to meet me halfway” to which he responded, “No. You have to come all the way.” Meaning, I’d have to come back to the religion to have a relationship with him.

I explicitly remember at that moment shutting off my affection for my father. I knew at that moment, no matter what I did, what I said, no matter how good of a person I was in the eyes of others, I was worthless in his eyes unless I was a practicing Jehovah’s Witness. So, I shut off and I moved on. 

An Extreme Situation

It wasn’t until I was attacked this summer that my dad reentered the picture. He presented himself to the public like a father-of-the-year – visiting and bringing gifts to me in the hospital, visiting me at home and bringing meals made by my stepmother, which I really appreciated. This lasted for about six weeks after I got home from the hospital.

Needless-to-say, I was very cautious and suspicious of his interest and presence in my life. I thought, maybe this extreme situation had made him see the error of his ways in rejecting me for so many years. I was ready to forgive him and put his abandonment behind us and move forward with a renewed relationship. But, just as quickly as he reappeared, he disappeared. In fact, I haven’t received as much as a text message asking about my well-being for three months.

Interestingly, he became the centre of attention from the Jehovah’s Witnesses who once knew me. My case was very high profile, so everyone was contacting him to inquire about my well-being. This, too, is evidence of epic hypocrisy. No one has ever inquired about my well-being. It appears that everyone just wanted to be a part of the social media action and or to say they were connected to me in some way. Very sad.   

I will explore the practice of shunning, and what I affectionately refer to as my shame reel, in my book, but if you are someone who is currently suffering in silence because you don’t conform to the beliefs of your parents, or you’ve vocalized dissenting views from the faith of your upbringing and have since been rejected or shunned, you’re not alone. 

If you are someone who is currently suffering in silence because you don’t conform to the beliefs of your parents, or you’ve vocalized dissenting views from the faith of your upbringing and have since been rejected or shunned, you’re not alone. 

Sometimes, the people that should love you unconditionally, like your parents, instead, reject you, shame you, and sometimes, disown you. In those instances, it’s important to acknowledge and to seek help for the pain you feel since suppressing it will only lead to that pain resurfacing later in life in unexpected and unpleasant ways. But it’s also important to recognize that despite their rejection, tantamount to emotional abuse, you are worthy, and you are loveable, and you are full of potential. 

Find Your Tribe

I just finished reading the book Lost Connections: Why You’re Depressed and How to Find Hope. This book was gifted to me, not because I’m depressed – thankfully – but because of a discussion I had around the theme of abandonment, which emerged while writing my book. 

Johann Hari shares extensive research into nine causes of depression and frames these causes as disconnections. One of the disconnections is from other people. You’ve probably heard in marketing and social media contexts that advocates for you to find your tribe or for channels to give a name to the members of your tribe. This notion of a tribe has prehistoric references. Belonging to and staying close to your tribe meant safety and protection as well as access to food and connection with others. Leaving your tribe meant sure death. 

Johann Hari shares, “Every human instinct is honed not for life on your own, but for life in a tribe. Humans need tribes as much as bees need a hive.”

I Was Misled

Being raised as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I was led to believe that ONLY Jehovah’s Witnesses have a sense of community that takes care of its members. That ONLY Jehovah’s Witnesses truly care about each other and will take care of each other in a time of need. I was led to believe that anyone outside of the faith was ultimately evil and unclean in thoughts and actions. 

This theory was completely obliterated this past summer as evidenced by the support I received from my own local community, my neighbours, coworkers, business associates, social media connections, my non-Jehovah’s Witness family members, my husband’s family, my close friends, and complete strangers extending to far-reaching distances. Thousands of people banned together to lift me up and carry me through one of the most difficult times in my life. Support from Jehovah’s Witnesses was not evident. 

Emotional Manipulation Through Shunning

Johann Hari also gives insight into the outcome of the practice of shunning, even of your own children, through isolating them from the most fundamental tribe – the family. “The sense of dread and alertness triggered by being alone for too long evolved for a really good reason. It pushed people back to the group…loneliness is an aversive state that motivates us to reconnect.” He goes on to say that loneliness often exists alongside anxiety and that evolution has shaped us to not only feel bad in isolation, but to feel insecure. 

Brene Brown, a shame and vulnerability researcher and author, reinforced Johann Hari’s insights. Brene Brown discussed the impact of extreme isolation in her book Daring Greatly. She shared that “The most terrifying and destructive feeling that a person can experience is psychological isolation….a feeling that one is locked out of the possibility of human connection and of being powerless to change the situation…people will do almost anything to escape this combination of condemned isolation and powerlessness.”

How I Built Resilience

If I had not worked on building resilience to the adversity experienced at the hands of my father and other practicing Jehovah’s Witness family members, perhaps I would have shrunk into despair and loneliness and insecurity and made my way back to the Jehovah’s Witness tribe. Perhaps that’s what my father was waiting for during the weeks he made a brief reappearance in my life. 

But I have built resilience through what Johann Hari defines as reconnection. I have aligned myself with good and caring people – people who don’t put conditions on their affection for me. I have attempted to develop my skills and advance my education in order to contribute to meaningful work, and I’ve reconnected to meaningful values by engaging in intrinsically motivating activities like salsa dancing and teaching. 

During this unique time in history where we’re discouraged, even prevented, from connecting face-to-face, we are more prone to loneliness, anxiety, and depression. Seeking opportunities to find your own tribe of like minded individuals – even online – who share your aspirations and values will be a protective force in developing your resilience. 

It has taken courage and self-belief to withstand the rejection and hurt imposed upon me by Jehovah’s Witness members of my family. This courage has contributed to my own resilience, and it is my hope that by sharing aspects of my story with you that it will also give you courage to believe in yourself, your worthiness, and your potential. 

Thanks for reading. B Positive!