One of the tricky things in my life lately has been dealing with the way my body has changed as a result of chronic pain. Some of these changes have been welcome. Having access to regular treatment options such as massage, yoga, and meditation has meant less muscle tension and improved posture. Paying closer attention to my body in general has meant a level of self-love and care that I have only cultivated because of this disease. On the other hand, the limitations placed on my body by pain have meant changing the way I eat, exercise, and ultimately have meant gaining weight, which has come with some difficult mental challenges.
Just like many of you, I have internalized the incessant pressure to be thin despite my efforts to reject mainstream notions of beauty. On top of being bombarded by these images daily, the thin=healthy myth has been more-or-less successfully embedded in my psyche from all angles. I think this influence is virtually inescapable, and that people who reject it successfully work damn hard on a daily basis to do so. I’m giving it my best shot, my first line of defense being the regular maintenance of a pinterest board dedicated to showcasing “every body”, but still, that’s a drop in the bucket compared to immersion in a culture of fat-shaming, food-guilt, and normalized eating disorders.
People with chronic pain and all variety of medical conditions have the added pressure of losing weight to supposedly ward of illness. Surely there are connections between carrying extra weight and exacerbating certain health conditions, but losing weight is not the fix-all answer that it is often purported to be. I’ve come across several chronic pain self-help guides that claim EXERCISE is the simple, overlooked answer to all types of chronic pain! This is pretty offensive considering chronic pain actually prevents some people from being able to exercise at all. This can be hard for able-bodied people to imagine, especially of people with invisible illness, but sometimes exercise (yes, even swimming) is not an option.
In the past, if I found my pants getting a bit tight, I would visit the gym a bit more regularly, avoid snacking between meals, and lay off the sweets for a bit until my pants fit better. Vigorous aerobic activity several times a week was the norm for me anyway, and aside from what I recognize as a somewhat unhealthy obsession with my weight, that exercise did feel good, and contributed to my overall wellness and happiness.
Now, vigorous aerobic activity is a sure-fire way of triggering a severe pain attack, and eating (albeit healthy things) all day long, like, every two hours, is essential to warding off pain. Also, fatty and sugary comfort foods are one of the only things that can provide a bit of pain relief or pleasurable distraction for me during an attack, provided the nausea isn’t too awful. I can not properly stress the amazingness of this discovery. Where heavy-duty narcotics totally fail, delicious food temporarily helps. (Luckily no one has tried to get between my chocolate ice cream and me during a peak migraine time, because that would not be pretty.) So despite my pants being a bit tight, upping the exercise, reducing my food intake, or changing my diet drastically are just not things I am able or willing to do.
Oh yeah, and one of the side effects of my preventative daily medication is weight gain.
So… What next?
There’s one option left as I see it, and that is to accept the fact that body size is not a simple equation of calorie intake + fitness + will power. It’s so much more complex than that. Especially for people with chronic pain. I will just have to accept that gaining a bit of weight is not any kind of personal failure, just as I have to work harder to accept all the things that come with this condition.
And I will buy new pants. And I will wear them on my rounder-than-before behind with swagger for all the aforementioned reasons, and because