The questions of “am I a body?” or “do I have a body?” are issues that I have often wondered about. Initially, I was almost certain that the body I have is only temporary and does not define who I am on a deeper level. I didn’t choose it and I can try to manipulate it as much as I want to, but I am still limited by the color of my skin, the length of my bones, the color of my eyes, and even the build of my muscles (or lack thereof).
This body I am in determines so much about my life, how I am perceived by others, how I am presented to the world, and due, in part, to ageism, racism, sexism, etc…my body even may limit my access to opportunities. I’ve given much consideration to my body and what my body means to me. I love my body, one of the few; I try to treat my body well because it’s all I’ve got. Without it, I’m not much. But we haven’t always worked well together. There have been times that my body and my mind were at odds.
Growing up, I have always been taller than everyone else. This was fun when I needed things from the top shelf but it unfortunately enabled others to perceive me to be more adult than I was. I was always subjected to glares and harassment from men who were much older than I was. I hated it. It made me feel gross, dirty, violated, pissed off, and sad. I had a long and great childhood. I was pretty naive an innocent for a long time and I didn’t understand why people felt authorized to comment about my body. It caused me to be very confused about my body and who I was because I didn’t feel like an adult, but my body told people I was.
Another issue that is constantly recurring is my body dictating my position and access in the world I live in. I am American. I was born here and my parents were born here but my grandparents weren’t. Some were born in Italy and some came from Russia. I love my family history. We are a rare breed and anyone in this country with my last name is related to me. What bothers me though, is how often people ask me where am I from? No, where am I really from? This incredibly offensive and unnecessary question is probing to get at why I don’t “look like I’m from around here”.
Perhaps it’s me beady eyes or high cheekbones that give me a distinctly Eastern European look but I.AM.AMERICAN. I try not to be too bothered when people ask this because it’s happens so often, daily even, and I have friends who have the same similar issues. We fall outside of the traditionally acceptable “American” body so our authenticity must be probed.
One time my body really didn’t agree with me was when I joined the Air Force. I joined because I wanted to be a pilot (eventually, perhaps, an astronaut) and I was well on my way to flying success when my body said “No.”. Being a pilot requires exceptional senses. I can see well but when it came to the hearing portion of the exam, I was the slightest bit deficient. I failed. My body failed me. It didn’t stop me though I still progressed through the process of enlisting in the Air Force. During basic training, you get manipulated by master manipulators. I was forced to conform to every whim and wish from the “training instructors” and I did. I did everything very well but unfortunately, when you are in a group, you are only as strong as your weakest unit. And my unit was weak. They couldn’t make a proper bed, the punishment for which was pushups. They couldn’t be assertive when necessary, which led to more pushups. They didn’t eat fast enough, so more pushups. Wake up too slow? More pushups.
Now, I could handle my pushups, for my own mistakes but my body couldn’t handle everyone else’s. One morning after being dropped for pushups 3 times in 10 minutes, I was having some trouble. They called an ambulance and as I was walking, my body gave up. I fainted. I gently I fell to the ground. I was conscious and I was screaming in my brain “Noooo! Stop it! Where are you going? Get up off the ground! Stop being dramatic!” But I couldn’t do anything but wait for my body and mind to work out their differences. I passed out 2 more times in 2 days so I took a breathing test to see if I had asthma. The survey said yes and the Air Force thought it best that I seek a future elsewhere. I was very disappointed in myself for a while. I was not raised as a weak person. How dare this happen to me?! But, in retrospect, it was one of the best things that ever happened to me. My future was not in the Air Force. I better serve my purpose elsewhere.
The most recent time was after I gave birth to my son. My pregnancy had gone along swimmingly but after birth, I had slowly started losing my mind. I couldn’t remember much of anything. I’d forget where I was going. I had tried to brush my teeth with my face wash more than a few times. I wasn’t losing the “baby weight” as hard as I was trying. I was, however, losing my hair in fistfuls. My body “system” had become irregular. My vision would distort (for example, the whole world actually turned into a weird kaleidoscope. Not really awesome when I was driving). After a year of this (I kept thinking it was no big deal, blame it on being a new mom, I’ll get over it, etc…). My mother is a nurse so I tend to not worry too much about minor health issues and I was also raised to be a pretty tough person so I wasn’t really too dramatic about the whole situation. Well, my Doctor thought it was a good idea to get checked out by a few specialists. I had an MRI done on my brain (survey says: beautiful brain), I met with a otolaryngologist (a throat cancer specialist), and a few other random folks. Evidently, giving birth triggered a severe disruption of my thyroid that caused it to nearly shut down altogether.
My case was so rare that Johns Hopkins had only seen 2 other people with levels as low as mine, one was in the psych ward and the other died. 😦 You never want to hear you have anything so rare that Johns Hopkins (#1 hospital in the country) had only 2 other documented cases. So, for the past few years, it has been a steady slew of thyroid tests, medication adjustments, and monitoring. I’m just glad it isn’t cancer (I hope not, anyway). My body needs to get over itself already.
I’ll reiterate that I love my body. My stories are connected to my body and I often try to consider how things might be different if my body was different. Everyone is entitled to feel however they want about their body and treat their body however they want. I try to treat mine well (maybe if I love it, it will love me back?) I hope we work better together because sometimes we really are at odds with one another.