by Alyssa Yeoman
Once I got really close to journaling about Kim Kardashian, but I stopped myself. I am glad I did. No, I am not glad because I think she is a negative role model for body image. I actually think, in more than one way, it’s quite the opposite. I won’t get to into that because I know people seem to feel passionately about Kim Kardashian; specifically, passionate about what she contributes or doesn’t contribute to society. I say she isn’t an all-bad role model for body image because there has never been a celebrity so attractive who is also so self-critical (publically) about her body. In her snapchat, her instagram, her interviews she frequently talks about getting to her goal weight, feeling disgusting, being easy on herself as she ages, and hating the way she looks. In my mind, it is refreshing to see someone who’s known for her beauty to be constantly struggling to manage that. She doesn’t project the image that “this is how I look and I love it and I am ALWAYS so happy about!” [insert maniacal nervous laughter] Do I think this is the way we need to go about caring for our bodies—no. What it does show us is that no matter what skin you’re in, you will always be your own worst critic. A corny saying that comes up often because as corny as it is, it is often true.
The reason I stopped journaling that fateful evening was because I had the realization that loving my body wasn’t about comparing it to others and then obsessing over until I achieve this “perfect body” which inevitably will never happen. This way of thinking was no longer suitable for me because loving my body was not a choice to lose some weight for summer or because my high school jeans no longer fit. I had to love my body because medically, I no longer had the luxury not to.
Before that fateful night of journaling, was a day over two years earlier when I had to go to the ER. I ended up in the ER after eating a robust meal of mac-n-cheese that ended in hellish pain with welt the size of a baseball protruding from my stomach. After not accepting the doctors’ answer of “maybe it’s just a fat deposit”, I was sent to a better doctor quickly followed by a gastroenterologist to find out that I had Crohn’s disease. Crohn’s disease is when you have gnarly inflammation in your intestines caused by whatever your triggers are. Common triggers are dairy, gluten, spicy food aka everything that is fun to eat. Your stomach isn’t always inflamed but when it is, you know and it’s called a flare up. That is one of the best medical terms ever coined because there is no other way to describe a flare up than the feeling of someone firing a flare gun from inside your body.
I got diagnosed with this and I did what anyone who hates taking care of herself would do. I did nothing. Nothing included doing the minimum to not feel as shitty. I took the giant horse pills when I hurt and would pass out for hours, as they drain the life out of you. I often called in sick to the job I hated because no one questions you when you have an autoimmune disease. This went on for about a year and a half after I was diagnosed until I found myself at the doctor again. My primary care doctor at the time was one of the realest people I’d ever met and she hit me with the hard questions. What are you doing for yourself? Can you tell you when you feel bad? You ever consider mediating? Maybe you should quit the job you hate?
Damn… I thought… Nothing. Sometimes. Considered it a few times, which I am pretty sure counts as mediation. And you’re right, I should.
In so many words, I was just told, “Alyssa you don’t pay attention to your body and you have to do that if you ever expect things to change.” The whole doctor’s visit shook me because never before had anyone seen through my bullshit.
The question that struck me the hardest was “Can you tell when you feel bad?” I had never thought about it. I had never exercised the awareness needed to tell when I physically felt bad. I had been diagnosed with Crohn’s and living with a hell of a stomach ache for years, well into my mid-late 20’s. I just assumed that this was what everyone felt after they ate. Before and even after I was diagnosed, I spent days overeating out of social anxiety. I spent nights binge eating alone because I was sad about the day. I spent years going on and off diets because I could never figure out why I loved being active, but I remained fat (in my mind) and tired. Then here I was with a doctor saying—you feel bad because you’re sick, and you’ve been sick, and you just didn’t allow yourself to see it.
There’s no harder news to accept about yourself than to know you have neglected your own feelings. My depression, my mood swings, my chronic fatigue, eczema that would take over my face a few times a year, all of this caused by me. The depths of self-destruction are deeper than you think they are. I believed I’d figured it out because I could talk about the emotional pains I lived through. I could articulate the ways I’d grown as an adult. I am emotionally self-aware, how could I be so unaware of physiology.
I finally decided to make the changes needed to not take more years off my life. Making this choice didn’t make me immediately a champ at avoiding all my trigger foods. Let me take this moment to say, all of my trigger foods are the best things to eat. I mean have you ever HAD to give up dairy? It’s a nightmare! I am still working on it. Do you know the gluten is the literal glue that binds American supermarkets/restaurants together? Did you know this tasty glue binds teriyaki, one of the best foods in the world? Neither did I!
These changes were no longer a choice though, I have an autoimmune disease and it won’t disappear. I’m required to learn what it is to live with this thing that’s made my body its home. Its home is my home. When I go out, Crohn is coming with me. I am required to take only goodness into this body every day. I don’t get a day off to let myself do whatever and if I do take those days, I feel the repercussions for a week or more. I can no longer neglect myself. I can’t say “Alyssa you ate that and I am sure all of your friends, laughing and smiling, feel this same stomach pain too.”
There have been moments when I see how this diagnosis was what I needed. I see it in the way I can manage my chronic depression, my eczema has cleared, I have the energy to workout whenever I feel like it. However being forced into self-love is not easy. It requires you to take a long, hard look at yourself and evaluate what got you here in the first place. It’s not about obsessing over your missteps because it’s too late for that. What it has shown me is that I can never go back. I can’t go back to allowing myself be at the will of external forces. External forces being the idea of seeming carefree around food, the media portraying a specific idea of what healthy looks like, and the idea that I am incapable of change. I have a health to maintain outside of wanting to look a certain way or become something I am not. I have my own health to tend to, constantly. I have no choice but to take ownership over my choices. That ownership is the thin line between a long healthy life and one taken over by years of huge pills and blood work every week.
Crohn’s has taught me to love my body because I’ve already put her through so much. We spent years not knowing each other and now I am getting to know her. She’s still not my favorite person, but she grows on my everyday. With every new hurdle I learn her resilience, her strength, and her grace. I learn that what is hers is mine and, in this case, that’s Crohn’s Disease.