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My body and me, a love/hate relationship

my body’s been through a tough time. It’s lived with ehlers danlos syndrome all it’s life, causing dislocations in every joint from hips to fingers, tears in skin from the bottoms of feet to gums, pain from ankles to neck and complications including a ruptured womb and recurrently dislocating neck. In recent years, it’s also had Chronic heart disease, angina, POTs, vascular degeneration, Pomphyx eczema and Raynards disease to add to the daily challenges. You could say it’s been through the mill. You could say it’s amazing, strong, determined and remarkable.

you could also say it’s a huge disappointment; imagine being given something to travel through life in only to discover it’s broken, over and over again.  Imagine wanting to do so many things with your life only to discover that you have to stop half way through and acknowledge, “I won’t be physically able to do that.”  Think about the frustration of spending a large proportion of your daily life asking people to do things for you that should be simple, like putting on shoes, brushing your hair, lifting your baking out of the oven. After a while, you’d be incredibly strong if you didn’t stop doing some things simply because you’re tired of asking for help.

My body is also curvy and ‘larger than life’; I think the last time I fit into a size 12, I was about 12 years old! The fact that I have large hips, curves and wobbly bits and a fairly impressive bust, are the very things that attracted my husband to me when we first met, back in our teens. He has a true love of my body to this day; he appreciates everything about it that makes it, in his words, “voluptuous-yummyness”;  “I want to cuddle someone soft, not take an eye out” he assures me when I comment that I should probably work on my core.

And there’s my dilemma. In a society where our bodies are meant to conform to a certain size, shape and proportion, my remarkable body doesn’t fit. It’s curvy and wobbly, I have large hips and as once described in Bridget Jones, I have a bottom you could “rest your pint on and park your bike in”!  (That always makes me chuckle).

How am I meant to love my body when I’m bombarded with the constant message that ‘fat’ is evil, an indication that I live a lazy life, eat too much, have no self-control? How can I be in awe of this amazing, tough, miraculous body, that has got me through so much, achieved it’s own miracles by walking and surviving everything my illnesses have thrown at it. How can I be proud and celebrate when all the messages tell me I should feel shame?

So, I find myself skipping over pages in magazines that show stick-thin, under-fed models, I ignore the adverts for weight loss clubs where you’re made to feel guilt at a whole new level and I listen to my husband; well, in truth, I’m still learning to listen, it’s an effort some days more than others. I’ve reached the point where I know it is true for him when he tells me I’m gorgeous and sexy, and that’s good enough for now. Me? I’m learning to believe it, learning that I can love my body. It doesn’t have to be a love-hate relationship.

how are you getting on in your relationship with your body? Have you got any tips that helped you?

dinah x

I don’t know what to say

When someone dies, we often find it difficult to know what to say to the people they’ve left behind.  Strangely, rather than overcoming this sense of embarrassment, we often avoid having a conversation at a time when, by just being there to listen, we could make such a huge difference.

As an Independent Celebrant, I often meet with loved ones very soon after their loss and it is my job to talk to them about the person who has died, to help us prepare a service to celebrate their life.  It is a huge privilege to be with families at this time and to hear their stories and share their memories.  I love helping them open up their box of happy memories, finding comfort in the joyful moments they all spent together is a wonderful way to start the process of grieving.  And most of what I do at our first meeting is listen.

It is hard to know what to say.  Nobody finds it easy, or comfortable to start a conversation about death, especially when it seems there are no words that are “enough”.  And there really are no words that will ever feel like the right ones, so you have to be yourself and use the kind of language you normally do.  We tend to over-think what to say and this becomes our excuse to say nothing.  “better to say nothing than the wrong thing”, we tell ourselves, but in truth, it is better to say something simple and show you are thinking of them.

Before the age of facebook messages, we used to write to people when they lost a family member or loved-one.  Sympathy cards, which so often seem ‘old-fashioned’ now, are exactly that – a lovely, kind old-fashioned way of showing that you are thinking about what that person and their family are going through.  They cost very little (even less if you make one yourself, or use writing paper) but mean a great deal to the recipient.  I recently spent time with a client looking through more than 130 cards from her husband’s work colleagues and friends.  She was overwhelmed by their kindness and by how many lives her husband had touched.  She told me that their words meant more to her that she knew how to express, and that they were giving her great comfort.

One of the wonderful things about being a Celebrant in a small community, is that you also hear about the way people support each other at a time of loss.  Food arrives regularly, cooked with love and care and with no thanks expected.  Lifts to appointments and offers of filling in forms and informing locals of funeral arrangements are common place and every time I visit a family, there are neighbours popping in to make tea, do washing or collect the kids for an hour’s relief.  I am constantly reminded that life goes on and it is the people around us who ensure we’re able to get back on board as we start to recover.

And as time passes, after funerals and wakes and celebrations of life are over and the family has to return to ‘normal’ life, comes the time when being there is even more important.  Once the initial shock and support has subsided, and everyone has had to return to their own lives, it can be a very isolating time for the family.  Once the organising and preparing for the remembrance has ended, family can feel at a loss and the reality of finality hits home.  This takes a different amount of time and a different form for everyone.  We all grieve at our own pace, and one of the most important things you can do is reassure them that there is no need to rush the process.  Reassuring them that you’re there for as long as they want to talk, whenever that might be, is very supportive.  Don’t be disappointed if they don’t take you up on this offer, and don’t hesitate to keep offering; when they’re ready they’ll hear you.

Most of all, don’t stop talking to them about the person who has died.  We tend to feel like we should avoid mentioning them, in case we upset their loved one.  I like to think of this in a different way  – when we talk to them about the person who has died, we help them remember the memories they created together, their shared stories and the good times they enjoyed.  We give them a chance to reconnect with their happiness at a time when they are feeling sad, and to see that the memories will always be with them to enable them to experience those emotions again.  It’s a gift we can give them which might make them cry as they smile.

I think we talk too little about death in our society, and this is a key reason why we hesitate to engage with those who are experiencing it within their family group.  We don’t know what to say, because we’ve rarely heard our parents talking about it and it’s highly unlikely it has been discussed at school unless a tragedy has impacted the school directly.  When we look at cultures where death is more widely discussed and made part of life, we discover the challenges in talking about it are less frequent.  In Mexico, for example, every child has experienced the Day of the Dead celebrations, by the time they reach school age.  Death is part of the culture from art to music to tourism, so offering words of support is second nature.

I’d love to know if you were supported by people listening when you lost someone you loved.  How do you think we can make it easier for people to feel they can offer a hug or words of support?

With love

Dinah

According to whom?

I watch with my head in my hands when the adverts come on the television.  The cause of this despair is quite simple really, it’s the idea that women are failing if they don’t “match up” to the perfection that is personified in stick-thin, teen-age models with “perfect” lifestyles and the skin, hair and figure to match.  Apparently, it’s what we all want.

 

I’d like to know, According to whom?

 

I saw an ad for skin cream that claimed “80% of women said they’d consider delaying surgery after using it”

 

Delaying? As if, surgery was inevitable once we took a good look in the mirror and realised how wrinkled we were.

 

Another shows a husband, claiming “we’ve been through three pregnancies…. and she still looks like Kate”

 

Let’s get this straight – the model still looks 30 because she is 30 and has probably never borne a child, let alone three.  Your wife still looks like your wife because you love her and we see only what we want to in people we love. And by the way, despite the grey hair you seem to despair of, she finds that sexy and exciting.  Don’t knock it!

 

My point is, who is it that sets these expectations, these apparent standards we must strive to achieve with diets, creams, procedures and prodding?  And what is it that makes us buy into them?  Is it a crowd thing, that sense that “everyone else does it so if I don’t then I’ll stand out for the wrong reasons?”  Is it that we’ve been so convinced the message is true, we’ve started to believe it ourselves?

 

I looked at my husband this morning; really looked at him.  His lines around his eyes, from working out-doors and no doubt added to by stress over the years. His grey hairs, now a good 30% of his head is covered in greys and whites.  I love them, I think they show his experience and maturity and yes, if I’m totally honest, they just look incredible with his tan!  I looked at his hands, with scars that show a life-time of crafting, creating, working hard for a living. Oh yes, I looked at other bits too – but that’s between us 😉

 

I asked myself “Do I see these changes in him as imperfections?  Do they stand out and become the things I notice?”  The answer for me was no.  I see these as the signs that we are growing old – together.  That makes me emotional.  We did not anticipate this.  It’s exciting and new.    I love the lines that tell his story, the rugged look that highlights his features, the grey hair that makes his blue eyes even more intense.

 

And I wonder, does he notice my lines, my creases and wrinkles?  Does he see the grey mixing in with the blonde or notice the lines on my hips and arms which tell of my history?  Does he love me because of them or despite them?  I believe I know.  I believe he’s with me on this one.

 

According to him I’m beautiful.  According to him I can stop fixating over the ageing process and continue to celebrate my years and my lines.  According to him, I’m perfect just as I am.

 

Dinah x