I’m only recently accepting the extent to which my physical body has been intrinsic to how I self-identify. The realization has come on the heels of a bunch more that are the result of the heart failure (cardiomyopathy if you like big words) diagnosis in September.
My body has changed significantly in the way I use it for self-identification purposes. That is, I self-identify as strong and healthy.
But since September I’ve lost physical strength which is represented in the way my body functions and moreover looks. My stomach is rounder; my thighs fluffier, breasts fuller, upper arms softer; cheeks looser. My max press weight is lower; plank time reduced; four sets are three; the goal of qualifying for the Boston Marathon so distant it’s pretty much a speck on the horizon; could just as easily be a lint on my eyelash. I take pills–not supplements and vitamins–chemicals and hope. None of these are consistent with the me I identify as Myself.
I do not like this body and making peace with the self it presents to the world is hard.
Mine is probably the same disconnect that felled my first cardiologists. You’re young they said. Healthy they said. Every poke and imaging study said, not quite. Other than the danger in their lack of vision, I’m not entirely angry at it anymore. The illusion is also my own. I bang the heck out of my ankles because I forget I’m wearing a three pound battery pack I call Selah my sidekick; also known as the bionic bra. Selah is a Zoll LifeVest; a defibrillator strapped on like a bullet proof vest that gives me the attractive broad upper back of an NFL linebacker, a dandy wired tail so that dresses are not an option, and the shock of your life should your heart decide to stop beating properly.
Me and Selah cannot stay out of the gym. Yet my body remains resistant. That’s the drugs. They’ve made my heart rate the stuff a marathoner’s dreams might be made of–low and steady–and the best way to slow my metabolism and increase the fullness of my ever troublesome belly. I am really displeased with this of course. This is not the body my cardiologist describes as optimally healthy–except for the heart part. Therefore, this is not Me.
I’m not sure who I am now that I can’t run a mile, even a slow one, eve
n if I were promised that my sidekick Selah wouldn’t bang bruises into my back in the process. One of the leads has already given me the striking tattoo of her presence. I’m not sure whose thighs these are that touch and fill space in my jeans; don’t recognize the 60s that used to be 75s; the miles that take so long as belonging to me.
I think of my hair; I am not India Arie. I fully choose my hair to represent me. And have since 1997 when I stopped straightening it with chemicals. So, yes my sense of identity has long been associated with my physical body; the choices I make for it. And right now with those choices being dictated by circumstances rather than my own hand I feel kind of out of control–like a squatter in my own body. A stranger in a strange land.