I Love My Body: A New Mantra

I can’t claim I’ve always embraced self-love, especially where my body is concerned. I was in first grade when my body first indicated this was going to be a complicated relationship. After my white blood cell count inexplicably plummeted, I was kept out of school for three months until weekly lab tests indicated that I could once again be exposed to large groups of kids.

Life with rheumatoid arthritis

Over the following 15 years, I had a series of unexplained bouts of joint pain, extreme fatigue, mysterious lab results, and frequent infections. At the age of 22, a rheumatologist finally put the pieces together and diagnosed me with rheumatoid arthritis/rheumatoid disease [RA/RD]. In the nearly two decades since, I’ve adapted to life with this disease but, in terms of my relationship with my body, the most apt status label would be “it’s complicated.”

A complicated relationship with my body

While my body and I are in it for the long haul, sometimes this has felt more like a problematic arranged marriage than a loving partnership. After all, my body is frequently the source of significant, sometimes excruciating, pain, and always provides a steady thrum of discomfort. At times, my body hampers me with so much fatigue it is hard to perform normal daily activities. Going all the way back to my childhood of frequent and sometimes extended absences from school, play dates, and activities, my body can socially isolate me, requiring me to cancel plans and miss events I long to attend.

Sometimes my body feels like an abusive spouse.

But I’m trying to change that frame of mind. Not to get too philosophical, but my body and “I” are, of course, one and the same. Without my body, my brain stops thinking, and the “me” as I know it ceases to exist.

Grateful for what this body can do

Not only does my body keep my brain thinking, my heart pumping, my lungs breathing, and my sustenance digesting, it also grants me amazing experiences. My eyes allow me to see sunlight filtering through oak leaves, my ears give me the sound of cicadas on a warm Southern night, and my tongue allows me to taste the sharp sweetness of burnt sugar atop the silky custard of crème brulee. My skin and nervous system allow me to feel the cuddles of my children or feel their gentle pats on my head when I tell them I hurt too much to hug them the way I want to. My nose allows me to breathe in the scent of my husband finally home after a week of long working hours.

Grateful for movement despite RA pain and discomfort

Even my joints and muscles, so often the source of pain and discomfort, allow me to experience my world. There are days when I stay in bed, and other days I limp through, but still, I move. I can walk, drive, and hug, albeit sometimes with a grimace of pain. On good days I can even ride a bike, swim, and hold my child’s weight on my lap.

These are things I can do because I have a body.

Actively practicing self love

And so, in the spirit of gratitude and in the hopes of eventually healing, I’ve started to repeat over and over, “I love my body.”

As I perform the daily rituals of caring for my body, I repeat this mantra. As I brush and floss my teeth, I think, “I love my body.” As I take my morning pills, I remind myself, “I love my body.” As I stand in the warm water of a shower, soaping my skin and shampooing my hair, I tell myself, “I love my body.” As I clean and moisturize my face, I repeat the refrain.

The more I say it, the more I believe it

With each repetition, the message sinks in a tiny bit deeper. It slips into the layers of negative messages I’ve told myself for years, mixing into the criticism and resentment, shining light into the murk. Each time I say it, that light glows a little brighter, clearing more space for positivity. Now that I’ve said this mantra to myself hundreds of times when I say “I love my body” I’ve begun to actually believe it. My body is not an abuser imprisoning me in pain, but rather a victim of biological mishaps, and together we are facing these challenges united.

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