In The Eye of the Chronic Beholder

I hate my body. Well, that’s not fair. It’s more of a love-hate thing. I love that it’s resilient enough that I am still alive – truly amazing! – but I hate everything else. There is the exhaustion that drags at me any time my blood sugar that isn’t within a fairly narrow range. There is the nausea from damaged nerves in my stomach. There is the occasional, but crippling pain that shoots into the base of my skull from my shoulder, a leftover from my paralysis. I could go on, but this is not the time for what my family calls the “organ recital.”

Last week, I started seeing some articles about “Snapchat dysmorphia”, a condition where people are starting to get plastic surgery so they can look like what their Snapchat filters make them. This shouldn’t be a shock in our social media society, but it is one of the saddest things I have ever heard. It’s just a leap (bigger than a step) too far.

Most everybody has something about their bodies they want to fix, but chronic conditions make it worse. When you are seriously ill and not treating your condition helps you suddenly fit society’s physical ideal, or at least your perception of it, it is harder to take action to bring your condition under control. (How many of us are not so upset to lose a couple of pounds if we have to suffer through the flu?) When you take medication that makes you put on weight or causes hair loss or affects your skin, it is tempting to skip it, even at the risk of your condition’s stability.

I’m no different.

When I lose control of my diabetes, getting back in control means automatic weight gain. Going from not absorbing everything you’re eating to absorbing every crumb will do that. If you want a healthy and stable diabetes monster, you have to just accept it. Exercise can help mitigate the weight gain, but not all the time. In the simplest terms, if I am unhealthy and I want to be healthy, it means I am going to get a little bit fatter. And if it’s an improvement I can’t maintain, I will get a little bit fatter every time I get my diabetes under control.

The most dramatic example of this was my initial diagnosis, when I gained 60 pounds in six months because I had basically been in a state of starvation, and the less than stellar medical providers available to me wouldn’t work with me to appropriately adjust my diet plan. (I hadn’t developed yet into the advocate that would have ignored them and done what felt right to me.) This is how I developed a diabetes-specific eating disorder.

At least I was lucky on the social side. I never lived in a house where there was an emphasis on fashion or beauty. My mom was beautiful, but she was the kind of woman who, on the rare days she used makeup, would use her lipstick as blush. She had Crohn’s disease and could never quite get off the Cortisone that made her gain weight. I suspect it bothered her, but I can’t remember hearing much about it. I also can’t remember ever seeing a Cosmo or Vogue in our house, ever. There was zero pressure from my family to conform to society’s dictates. Even so, I thought I was fat even when my BMI said I was not even in the overweight category.


Luckily, my body image ideal has evolved since I was a teenager. I don’t want to be thin like I was then. I want to be strong, like I was before my unfortunate work situation a couple of years ago knocked me off my regimen. When I was exercising regularly and my progress was tangible. When I could run intervals for the length of an entire TV show, it gave me confidence and a sense of purpose that leaked into other facets of my life.

I know it’s not easy to change your perception when we are surrounded by the shallowness that social media society causes. It’s so tempting to compare ourselves to the people we see in magazines or on Facebook, but those are only snippets of their ideal, not their whole lives.

So try not to do that. We’re outside the norm already. Just going to work every day – or every other day – makes us stronger than the average bear. And we understand our bodies in ways healthy people never will. If we try, we can recreate our physical ideals based on where we want our conditions to be (the parts we can control). Forget social media. Why not let that be our new standard of good and beautiful?