I spent most of my life hating my body – hating the way it looked, the way it moved, the way it felt. Then I started running and I thought I’d started a journey to learning to love my body. But I still abused it. I pushed it harder and harder. I could always be better, faster, stronger. Each niggle, each pain was another reason for me to hate it, so I ran through it all – running, when pain free, made me feel alive. Like a machine: like anything in the world was possible.
I ignored all the signs. I’d come home wrecked from work, with visible tremors, but I’d still lace up my runners and get going. I remember wondering if I could sustain the level at which I was working and exercising. But I didn’t care – I felt powerful. Exercise can become a drug and I’d fallen for it hard.
There were weeks in which I wouldn’t take a single rest day but, other than the odd symptom, I hadn’t got so much as a single headcold or sniffle in over 12 months (and for me that was highly usual) – I put it down to my exercise regime and it was just further blind endorsement that I must be doing the right thing. I’d lost a stone and a half and for the first and in my life I looked in the mirror and I liked what I saw. I never really thought about the relationship between what I saw and what I felt. I now know that liking your body starts on a much deeper level – you’ll never like what you see in the mirror if you don’t learn to love what hides behind.
And so, after another stressful week where I’d ultimately pushed myself too far, my body screamed ENOUGH.
Now, I’m not blaming myself for causing my MS but I certainly didn’t stop to think about exactly what I was asking of my body – I guess I always wondered how far it could be pushed. That adrenalin rush of pushing your body to the edge of its limits… I don’t need to look far to find its limits anymore.
Four years previous to this, just after handing my thesis in, I’d had bad vertigo, migraine and slurred speech for two weeks, which we now think could have been my first relapse. Then there were echoes of the very odd day of extreme fatigue where I remember worrying what was wrong and how I could be that tired for no reason – there were so many little, unexplained symptoms. MS had been at the back of my mum’s mind for years though and when I relapsed and ended up in hospital in 2014 she was the first person to suggest it to me. I laughed at the time but in a way I’m glad she was the first person to say that to me – it meant that the words MS first came from a person I love. I waited a further six months in limbo for the official diagnosis – at which point there was no doubt in my mind that it could be anything else.
I had to relearn what it was to love my body. And, for the first time in my life, I really learned what that meant. I’m still learning though – and these days I have far more reason to hate my body. But what’s the point of that? By hating my body, I inevitably hate myself. As I write this, I’m not exactly having a good MS day. My fatigue is horrendous at the moment, my vision is a mess, I’m into my third week of constant headaches, my back problem has flared up again and I’m somehow sitting through work in constant pain. I’m actually starting to wonder if I’ve had a mini relapse – is that even a thing? I’m concerned at the moment that for the last few months it’s felt like my body has been on a constant decline – that terrifies me and I don’t want to dare think what that might mean. I have so many reasons to hate my body at the moment – but right now, what it actually needs, is for me to love it and to be kind to it more than ever.
I wonder now had exercise become a punishment for an unloved body? A way to distract me from how I really felt about myself. I never saw it that way until recently. For so long I craved getting back to that fitness level – for me, a powerful body, physically, made me stronger in every other area of my life. MS has forced me to reevaluate this and, between falling in love with pilates and melt method classes, I’ve actually realised that, despite all my exercise, I really didn’t have a clue what it meant to have a powerful body.
So, breathe in, breathe out and learn to love yourself, flaws and all – that’s the actual sum total of a powerful body.