I’ve always been able to eat whatever I wanted. That’s just a part of growing up with CF. Kids are picky eaters to begin with, but when you combine the inability to gain weight with pickiness, it results in headaches and frustration. So, when I was a kid, our doctors just told my parents that if my sister and I liked something, they should let us eat it.
I was called “chubby” in the second grade. It stuck with me for a long time — to this day, in fact. I still obsess over my eating habits, always contemplating whether I’m “hungry enough” to eat right now, which ultimately results in a vicious cycle of poor eating habits. I eat for comfort, then hate myself for eating unhealthy food which only gave gratification for a few minutes.
My body image issues have plagued me for two-thirds of my life. I’ve attributed a lot of my unhappiness to my body image. I catch unflattering angles of myself in mirrors and the backgrounds of my friends’ Snapchat images. I evaluate how I look in almost every photo I’m in. I worry that I’m judged all the time for my appearance. This body dysmorphia has me convinced that if my arms were just a little bit more toned or if I had chiseled abs, I would feel better about myself. I’d be less insecure about my height and less preoccupied with how people perceive me. I wouldn’t struggle with impostor syndrome.
But I know that isn’t true. I know there is no single physical attribute that, if slightly improved, would change my entire self-perception. I’ll never be perfectly happy with my body and I’ll never be completely impervious to how others perceive me. Somebody somewhere will have objections to how I look because that’s how the world works. Shallow people will be shallow, and we’re all a little bit shallow sometimes.
The simple reality is that life will never be perfect. We will never be perfectly OK with our bodies, and those of us with CF will never be perfectly healthy. With CF, we know we’re always walking a line of stable health, being thankful for that stable health yet paranoid of our next trip-up.
For me, that trip-up came in the form of a stomach issue. I woke up the other night in agony. The best way I can describe it is the feeling of having the wind knocked out of you by somebody blowing up a balloon in the top of your abdomen. The pain didn’t fully subside for over 72 hours, which resulted in four days of missed work and a trip to the emergency room.
During that time, I was pissed off. This was unpaid sick leave, so I wasn’t making money. I was in agony, frustrated with myself for being frustrated about being sick and unable to rest. My life was on hold.
Why do I feel that way, though? I’ve described my personal productivity paradox in this column: I feel like I have to be doing work to be worthy of some abstract value. But what was actually being put on hold? Obviously, missing work sucks — doubly so because I didn’t get paid — but it was more than that. It was that I was worthless because I was sick, and therefore my life felt meaningless for those days.
The entire time I was miserable, I thought I would make it a priority to not take my “healthy” moments for granted and that I would be better this time around, but this is an overplayed song and dance. I must recognize that each day, whether I’ve written 1,000 words and worked eight hours or have just lain on the couch just trying to catch a moment of sleep while in pain, is a day worth something.
Much like my body dysmorphia issues, I will never feel perfect and my life will never be perfect. It’s about trying to find a way to deal with it that matters most.
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