CN: discussion of weight gain, loss, and body image issues; chronic pain, depression
In the months after I injured my sacrum, I gained a lot of weight. I went from walking everywhere and working an extremely physically taxing job to almost no physical activity at all. My diet wasn’t unhealthy, but I was used to eating whatever I wanted. After I got hurt, my diet didn’t change and my intake of comfort foods slightly increased to cope with the pain. I gained about 30 pounds, and on a frame as small of mine, even a small amount of weight gain is fairly obvious.
My body shape changed. Despite my best efforts to love myself, I found this development discouraging. I really liked my hourglass figure and wasn’t enthused about switching to a pear shape. But the really frustrating part was that none of my clothes fit me anymore. All but a few of my gorgeous collection of dresses stopped fitting. Narrowing my options even further, my hypermobility caused my pelvis to tilt, which under a snug fitting dress made me look pregnant. I could sometimes be okay with this look, but I was not okay with strangers approaching me and asking me when I was due.
I reluctantly boxed up large sections of my clothing collection but I held back on doing a major wardrobe overhaul. I hoped that when my sacrum recovered and I could exercise again, I would lose weight and my body would change back. I kept clothes that only kind of fit so I wouldn’t have to spend my money on replacements that might be useless in six months.
As anyone who has ever struggled with their weight will tell you, wearing clothes that are just slightly too small for you makes you feel awful.
I am a huge advocate of body positivity. I will tell my friends that they look gorgeous no matter what they are wearing. I support them in whatever choices they make regarding their appearance as long as what they are doing makes them feel good. I do my best to practice what I preach.
But when you wear a shirt that used to fit, it distorts your impression of yourself. You don’t see that the shirt is now the wrong size for you, you see that you are wrong for the shirt. Somehow, you should’ve fixed yourself so that you could shove yourself into this shirt and make it look good without the shirt having to change at all.
As a result, I spent a lot of my time feeling frumpy, unattractive and shapeless.
But there were two dresses that still made me feel really good. One was a short and fitted bright pink dress made of flowery lace. It was cute and sporty and made me feel pretty. The other was a long elegant black dress with a plunging neckline, and black lace overlaying a beige skirt. It showed off the curves I wanted to show off and made me feel classy instead of penniless. I wore it for almost every single formal occasion I attended for the next two years.
These two dresses gave me a glimpse of the way I used to feel about my body. My shape was highlighted and exciting rather than something embarrassing I was trying to hide. But almost every time I put them on, I wished I didn’t just have two to pick from.
I spent a lot of time hoping that my body would go back to functioning the way it used to before I injured my sacrum. In case it did, I held off on letting go of the parts of my life where my body was the most relevant.
Instead of quitting my job, I transferred departments within the company. I could no longer lift heavy boxes all day, so I switched to standing at a cash register. I thought, just standing should be manageable. Just stand, with the gravity of my torso painfully pushing down on my sacrum, attempting to never twist or lean, my wrists and arms growing fatigued from constant motion, my feet developing a burning sensation and a tendency to hurt as if knives were stabbing them. Every time I was dealing with a new pain issue, I had to make do with only a few days off before returning to work, instead of giving my body the rest it needed. Many of my new physical problems continued to plague me for months after they started because they were never given the chance to fully heal.
Instead of walking away from the social dance community, I took over as the head organizer of one of the events. I spent hours every week on scheduling, advertising, networking, and then attending the event that I could not dance at. The event was struggling and I said to myself, I will keep this event afloat so that it’s still here when I can dance again. Despite finding it difficult to network with outside events that I did not have the energy to attend, I continued to organize alone. Carrying the heavy cash box to and from the weekly event made my hips ache, and if I could not find a ride, managing the box on the bus was terrifying, but I made no changes to my routine and I never took a night off.
I tried to walk or bus places, instead of asking for rides, when I really couldn’t. I tried to schedule early appointments, instead of taking the later ones, when I really needed more sleep. Over and over, I made my plans based on what I thought my body should be able to do, rather than what it could. And then I would feel awful when it couldn’t and I would pay for it physically. I spent two years constantly looking for ways to improve my life but I was always pushing to be as close to my old physical self as possible.
Then I was re-diagnosed with depression. I started taking anti-depressants for the first time and I took a long hard look at my life.
I had been so dedicated to reaching for the body I used to have, I hadn’t considered that it would be possible to accomplish my main life goals, such as maintaining community, earning a living, and finding creative outlets without compromising my body in the process. I saw the old version of me: skinny, dancer, guitar player, physically fit, plenty of time to hang out, able to stay up half the night dancing, excellent at my job, independent, energetic and positive; I thought that was the ideal version of myself. Anything that moved away from that would be a loss of my potential.
I considered the possibility of being a happy, healthy (relatively speaking), and productive person while also being disabled.
I reached out to my dance community and found a group of volunteers willing to take over my organizational duties for a few months so I could take a break to collect my life. When I came back, I found several people who were willing to continue helping me. They took over the aspects of the job that I found the most difficult, like networking with other communities and handling the cash box, allowing me to focus on the parts I was the best at, such as big picture planning and bringing in live music from out of town. They gave me the freedom to relax a little and take nights off if I needed to.
I found friends who were regularly willing to drive me to doctors’ appointments, and I asked for rides home from work. I switched my appointment times to early afternoon, giving me more time to sleep. I asked my partner for more help managing household chores and preparing food.
I started researching jobs that I could do where I would have more control over how I used my body throughout the day. I discovered a range of writing based jobs that were remote and sometimes part time or with flexible hours. I could do something I was excellent at, at home, and I could decide how to use my time and my body each day.
I found out that a great way to boost my candidacy for these writing jobs was to write a blog, which I had intended to do for several years. I started losing myself in researching platforms, advertising methods, designing a website, creating a content plan, and writing my first collection of posts. Creating and writing a blog was a place where I could collect and share my biggest ideas in the format that worked best for me.
After several months of trying to juggle building my blog, job searching, and my pre-existing commitments, I decided to take a risk and ask my parents if they could financially support me while I looked for a new job and monetized my blog. Quitting my cashier job would free up a large amount of physical and emotional resources, allowing me to get much more work done on the projects that mattered to me, and have a healthier body too. In one of my happiest moments in the last several years, they emailed me back immediately and said yes.
These new developments made me feel like the cute pink dress and the black elegant dress.
It’s been two and a half years since I started getting treatment for my disability. During that time, I went to the doctor’s office once a month and got weighed. My weight was within the same five-pound range the entire time. This is what my body looks like now.
The end of July will mark the three year anniversary of my sacral injury. My sacrum is significantly improved but it’s still not all the way healed. I’ve acquired several new injuries along the way and if my sacrum is an accurate measuring stick, they will probably each take a few years to recover. It’s logical for me to assume that by the time they do, I will probably have a few more injuries.
This is the body I have. This is me. This is what I can do. The old version of my body isn’t coming back. And that’s okay.
I’m ready to restructure my life so that what I have to offer isn’t just enough, it’s exactly what’s needed. I’m ready to feel like a success rather than a compromise. I’m ready to I feel free and competent and have room for growth rather than always, always stressing over basic maintenance. I’m ready to stop pushing my body through the expectations of my old life. It doesn’t fit them anymore. I’m ready to buy new clothes.
About the writer: Kella Hanna-Wayne is the creator, editor, and main writer for Yopp. In addition to creating a collection of educational resources for social justice, she works as a freelance writer specializing in content about her experience with disability, chronic illness, mental health, and trauma. Her work has been published in Ms. Magazine blog, The BeZine, Betty’s Battleground, and Splain You a Thing. You can find her @KellaHannaWayne on Facebook, Twitter, Medium, and Instagram.