How Chronic Illness Taught Me My Body's Worth

Like so many women, my body never really felt like it belonged to me. In fact, it felt like it belonged to anyone but me. It belonged to the gaze. The earliest praise that I can remember receiving was for my beauty and thus the knowledge that my worth was in my appearance became an early truth. Another early memory was my mother pulling at her stomach “fat” she would say. These moments were followed by seemingly endless conversations about how she would lose the weight. There in my mother’s bedroom, I found another early truth, fat was not beautiful, fat was not loved, being fat made you worthless. Therefore, as women we must shrink ourselves for love. These messages were echoed by magazines and shows of the 90s; sex and the city, friends. I covertly carried these beliefs right into adulthood.

When I was in my early 20s, I began to gain weight, therefore naturally I began dieting and withholding food. It seemed innocent enough, I would drink coffee all day to suppress my appetite - “fasting.” I hated my arms, my legs, my back. I hated my body.

By age 27, my legs shook as I bent down to use the microwave, my hands developed tremors that made painting (my first love) hard, my anxiety escalated to a point that felt beyond my control. A year went by like this, with the symptoms escalating and the doctors had no answers. I developed chronic pain to the point that walking scared me, my voice grew horse and I could no longer sing the way that I loved to. Little by little it felt like I was losing all of the parts of me. Oh, but with this illness did come effortless thinness. I realized at this time that thinness didn’t matter if I didn’t have all of my body’s ability to make magic. It dawned on me that I had taken for granted all of the gifts.

By age 29, I had a diagnosis, it was a b12 deficiency. This sounds innocent enough, however, when left untreated this deficiency can cause major damage to the mylin sheath-leading to symptoms similar to Multiple sclerosis. The reparation of my muscles and nerves could take years and most days, I am still dealing with the impacts.

I know that this story may read like a toxic tale about how my tragedy was a gift, so let me disclaim- this was not a gift and I do not wish adversity and illness on anyone. However, let me tell you, it was only when my body stopped doing all of the things that I needed it to, that I realized how much it was really doing for me. I also realized how unimportant and obsolete thinness became in the fact of my illness.

I am not immune to the toxic messaging around female bodies and my own internalized fat phobia. However, now, when the voices get too loud, I close my eyes and name of all of the ways my body is allowing me to be me.
Painting done by Chantal Pfaff illustrating How Chronic Illness Taught Me My Body's Worth
Chantal Pfaff Toi Toujours Counselling Guelph Kitchener WaterlooChantal Pfaff Toi Toujours Counselling Guelph Kitchener Waterloo