“Some people are walking around with full use of their bodies and they’re more paralysed than I am.” ― Christopher Reeve
I’ve always said I’m appalling with languages, despite – for various reasons – having had to learn Arabic, French and Italian, in addition to Bangla and English at home and school.
However, the language that most eluded me was that of my body’s. My body couldn’t always talk to my mind and I never figured out how to speak Body.
I’ve been in this body but not quite of it. There’s me, and then there’s my body.
This detonative body of mine: it’s been through near-death illness and multiple surgeries (seven on the last count); it’s had tumours extracted, organs removed, incisions cut deep and then stitched over; scars from eczema have mapped out my skin, making me hide behind full-sleeved shirts and long trousers for decades. I felt under siege.
This body is more sensitive than others. An allergic response to something most people find innocuous can shut my system down completely in an anaphylactic shock.
I’ve been on steroids, hormone shots, and such potent prescription medication that the side effects have included paralysis and death, and required constant, close monitoring. (There’s a good reason I never thought to use recreational drugs – I know all too well the effect of foreign substances on my system.)
I’ve already written about how depression – that very embodiment of all things mental, pun intended – had a very physical reaction in me.
When I was 20 I fretted about being fat and would sit with a cushion on my lap to hide my tummy. I was two sizes smaller than I am now.
When I was unhappy, I ate and ate. For years, I couldn’t voice my misery in my marriage (he was not an alcoholic or a skirt chaser or any of those obvious things) so I stuffed down my sense of alienation with food, padding myself from the confusion I felt but couldn’t articulate.
I would apologise – if not out loud – for taking up more space than I was allotted on this earth. Perversely, the more I weighed, the more I seemed to disappear. People ignored me as if I didn’t count.
I was raised in a culture where women’s bodies are covered up, where the norm is to swim in a pool wearing leggings and a t-shirt, even during women-only hours. This pervasive shame about the body is a tough one to kick, despite my not being at all religious. Women’s bodies have a high superficial social value, used to sell everything from cars to cola pretty much the world over, yet some governing authorities freely interfere with their reproductive rights. But I will leave the larger political points, critical as they are, for the time being and return to just the space occupied above my footprints.
Here I am
It was about a year ago that I decided it was time. I was going to learn to speak Body.
Now I know: the body tells the truth before the mind does.
Weight, skin and digestion hold my early alarm bells. When I need to face something, one or more of these do their best to alert me. Swelling, a rumble, that gut feeling – these are what the mind can’t yet express. It requires me to turn inwards and excavate the truth.
Now I know: the body is not out to get me.
I think of how much strain I put my poor body through in my years working in film production – three hours’ sleep a night for months at a time, erratic meals on the run, so much stress my adrenal glands gave out and my toenails fell off.
I thought of it as some sort of a one-upmanship game with my body. But I didn’t need to outsmart it or conquer it. It wasn’t trying to defy me. It wanted to protect me from myself. It was begging for adequate rest, nourishment, stretching, lifting heavy things, some regularity of schedule, and love.
Trying to defeat my body, I learnt at last, was defeating myself. No wonder I felt exhausted.
Now I know: my body is my ally.
A reminder of my frailty is not something to ignore but embrace.
My body’s more sensitive than most because, frankly, I’m more sensitive than most. It’s why I want to get under the skin of everything. It’s why I write.
The violent response to allergies is like having an over-eager guard dog that’s looking out for me. I’ve never felt sorry for myself for not being able to eat fish or other seafood. Beans are overrated anyway. And soy can be pretty toxic. So I’m doing okay.
Now when I have a health problem I’m more likely to consult someone holistic: acupuncturist, herbalist, Ayurvedic doctor. Someone who’ll hear the whole of me.
Here’s to the future
I’m in a good place now, but I’m not at my best. Because to do that requires an extra step that I never really bothered to take before, because I spent far too long exhausted from the battles of the body.
Now that I’ve made peace, I see that it’s like a relationship I need to nurture. It’s not enough to say hi once in a while and ignore it until it starts crying. It’s not about the fat/thin equation as much as being the fittest and healthiest I can be. I’ve not made exercise a non-negotiable part of my life, any more than I’ve ever turned down that extra slice of pizza.
As with most things in my life, I’ve drifted in some bohemian ideal of believing that if things were meant to be, if I really deserved it, it would happen on its own. It’s the way some people feel when it comes to getting a pay raise at work. But I want to do my life – and body – justice. I want to deserve a body – and life – that I don’t apologise for, because I earned it.
For all these years, my body has housed me, looked out for me, protected me. Yes, we’ve had our moments of miscommunication – I’d be lying if I said I never pleaded, “Just tell me what you WANT!” – but now we’re at a stage where we’re both trying to make the other proud. This story might just have a happy ending after all.
“I’m on a seafood diet; I see food, I eat it.” ― Dolly Parton
Here’s one about a sister who can’t stop turning things into ice with her hands. Wait, I don’t need to describe this to you. You’ve already seen Frozen, directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee. But it’s so much fun, let’s watch it again.
When a “socially inept” (implicitly on the autistic spectrum) professor decides he wants a wife, he proceeds with a checklist and a plan, only to find his life turn upside down. For one of the most charming and funny novels ever, read The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion.
“How ’bout no longer being masochistic /How ’bout remembering your divinity.” Listen to Alanis Morissette and say Thank You.