Coping | Daily Life | IBD
Sometimes, on the nights before medical procedures, I lay awake thinking of all the random doctors who have shoved cameras up my ass. And down my throat, and up my urethra (cystoscopies are not my friend). And all the techs who’ve performed all the vaginal ultrasounds and countless scans and X-rays I’ve had, and all the doctors who have stuck their fingers up my ass and in my mouth and up my vagina, and all the swabs that have made their way up my nose and in my ears, and down my throat.
So many providers whose names and faces I don’t even remember. Is it weird to not remember all of the people who have been up your butt with cameras? I go somewhere else when they touch me. My body isn’t mine in those moments, just an object that belongs to the medical system, to the nameless, faceless people with hands that have been inside every orifice. Somewhere along the way, my body stopped being mine completely, in all the moments. I look down at this scary place and think, “Why is this bizarre organism here with me? It belongs to the gloved hands.”
I try to remember what it’s like to feel safe in my body. I can’t. My body used to be my home. But lately it feels more like the Scene of a Great Many Traumas. Often, I struggle to remember the entirety of my medical history, because much of the traumas of the last few years have blurred together, turning my brain into a mushy bowl of Trauma Soup. I look back at medical records, old blogs I’ve written, past social media posts and think, “Oh yeah, that did happen to this body.” It is always “this body” and never just “me”, because my body and I do not feel like one anymore. This body is not in my control; this body does not follow logic; this body does not look or act or feel like my body did before my illnesses. This body is not the safe, stable home I used to know.
But it’s also the only body I’ve got, the only vessel I have for staying in this world. On bad days, I think, “If I could get out of this body alive, I would.” On worse days, I think, “Is the price I pay to live in this body worth the benefit of being alive?” On the best days, I think, “How can I work with my illnesses to reclaim this body as a home again?”
I wish I had a magical recipe for reclaiming your body after IBD and other physical and mental illnesses swoop in. I wish I could say, “follow these quick steps to make your body feel like yours again!” But I can’t, and nothing about this is quick or easy. However, we also aren’t alone.
The idea for this blog came out of a conversation I had with a fellow Girl with Guts a few months back. I had recently had yet another traumatic medical experience and had just come home. I had tried taking a bath (textbook “self-care”), but the bath triggered a panic attack because the act of seeing and attending to my body produced a flood of powerlessness and betrayal. I scampered out of the tub as quickly as I could, still covered in suds, and messaged the group chat I have with some fellow Girls with Guts.
After I had calmed down a bit and sent a panicked email to my therapist, we talked about how to reclaim your body and your sense of safety. We talked about sex, food, tattoos, redecorating your living space, haircuts, outfit changes…anything that gives us a sense of power, choice, and ownership over ourselves.
Personally, I went for the tattoo. I got a tattoo of beautiful Jacaranda flowers on my arm (with my doctors’ permission), intentionally placing it near where I often get IVs and blood draws so that I would have something beautiful and calming to look at in those moments.
Getting that tattoo helped. But it wasn’t a magic solution that made my body feel like mine again forever. I still have moments, days, weeks, months where my body doesn’t feel like home. I have come to realize that reclaiming your body is less of a single act of self-care and more of a series of small acts that build up overtime.
I don’t know if or when my body will feel completely safe again. I don’t know if I will ever feel at home in my body the way I did before I got sick, before all the invasive procedures and exams, and before fighting with insurance just to have access to horrendous medical procedures that my body does not want, but needs to survive. I have come to accept that my relationship with my body will always be heavy with complexity. So much is out of my control. All I know for sure is that I can work towards increasing my sense of safety and connection with my body in small, almost imperceptible ways over time. And that will have to be enough for now.