My Body Battles

(Warning…not strictly writing related…unless you have read The Mess Of Me or intend to one day…Monday was World Mental Health Day and this post is somewhat inspired by that.)

I feel like I have always been at odds with this flesh covered vehicle of transport I call my body.

I think the only time we’ve been on the same side is when we were trying to push out babies. (Although possibly not during the fourth labour, but that’s not a story anyone wants to hear today!)

I remember how I viewed this casing of skin as a child. I can’t remember ever feeling like it fitted me right. It always felt too big. I can clearly recall being about eight years old and noticing the thin, brown arms of a boy sat close to me in the classroom. They were like little brown matchsticks, and when I looked back at mine they seemed too big in comparison. I couldn’t understand why. They were just too fleshy…just too much.

When I was about ten my body began to develop. I had womanly curves whilst still playing with Lego. I hated it. And I hated all the friendly euphemisms for being a big child as well. ‘You’re a big girl, aren’t you?’ ‘It’s just puppy fat.’ Ugh. I didn’t really want to be a fat puppy, funnily enough.

As I grew I became increasingly aware of my unwanted flesh. I had breasts that jiggled and moved. I had hips and a bum. I had rolls of fat when I bent over or squished up. None of it felt like it belonged to me. It all felt like it needed to be shredded.

The weird thing is, if I look back at old photos of me, I really wasn’t as big as I thought I was at the time. I had a brother and two sisters who were all like stick insects, and I was bigger than them and I looked big for my age, but I wasn’t really fat. I was just developing. Still, it was not the body I wanted or felt I should have, and that feeling has never really gone away.

As a teenager my weight went up and down, and more often than not, I simply loathed the human suit I was forced to wear. I wanted to unzip it and step out, revealing the true me. I would have long, thin, shapely legs. Matchstick arms. A flat, hard belly. A neat, trim waist. Angles on my face. I would shed my skin and emerge looking like the girls I saw on TV and in magazines.

At one point in my teenage years, I submitted to my body and gave in. I hated sports because I felt so fat and slow, so I avoided them like the plague, shut myself away in the imaginary worlds of books and writing, and hence got bigger. I thought I was stuck with this flabby cage forever. I did not want people to see me. I often wished I could cease to exist.

During my later years as a teenager, a full on battle commenced. Much like the one Lou goes through in The Mess Of Me. I went to war with my body. I fought back. I kicked its arse and got control of it. I aimed to change it and remould it, to make it into something I could be proud of. It all started off sensibly enough, but as you can imagine, it soon all got rather messy.

I figured out ways of fighting back and rebelling. I told my body to fuck off. I discovered ways I could eat without getting fat. I figured how easy it was to just not eat at all. I realised that I could run and that once I started, it was hard to stop. So I ran faster and faster and faster, doing all I could to outrun the fat girl, to leave that chubby loser far behind.

During my early twenties, this battle continued. It’s fair to say I treated my body like utter shit. I hated it and felt like it hated me. We would never be friends. I would punish it any chance I got. Away from parental control, my University days were not good for me at all. I became obsessed with feeling hungry. With feeling for ribs and hip bones, with feeling the enthralling darkness of pleasure and fear. At my thinnest, I got more compliments than ever. I got noticed by boys, flirted with, asked out. Things that had never happened much when I was bigger. I loved it when people told me how much weight I had lost. I went to a family wedding and people did not recognise me. The only thing that ever scared me into eating  was each time my periods stopped…and only because I was desperate to be a mother.

I’ve always said having children saved me from myself, and it’s true. The first pregnancy we had ended in a miscarriage and I was devastated and completely blamed myself. I’d still been exercising, still watching what I ate, still waging war with my flesh.

The second pregnancy was a success and in the years that followed I threw myself into being the best mother I could be, and although I worked hard to get my body back, it didn’t occupy my mind in quite the same way as it had. There just wasn’t time. Through pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding I did, at last, learn to feel pride in my body. It wasn’t just a clumsy machine to be hated and abused, it was actually quite amazing. It could grow a baby. I could feed and sustain and nurture a life. Although I am far from happy with my body today, I do feel an element of pride in wobbly bits and stretch marks. They are part of who I am and what I have chosen to do with my life.

I’ve struggled over the years not to return to the old, messed up me. I was lucky enough to receive therapy before I became a mother, and I truly believe that opportunity set me on the correct path of health and fitness and sensible attitudes.

The thing is, you can’t hurt yourself when you have children because you realise that if you did, you would also be hurting them.

And now here we are. Me and my body which is fast approaching it’s fourth decade and still feels to me like it’s not really mine. I can’t say that we’re friends yet. In fact, lately it has been frustrating me more than  ever. It just won’t let me lose weight. I swear it feels like it’s getting revenge for those years of punishment. It’s getting its own back on me. It’s hanging onto the baby weight my two-year-old left behind like there is no tomorrow. He was a large, overdue, ten pounder who has certainly left his mark. There is fat to spare and my body wants to keep it all! It’s not making milk any longer, but it won’t let the post-baby body shrink no matter what I do.

This battle has been ongoing for six months now, and I am starting to take things up a notch out of sheer desperation. I’ve barely touched a drop of alcohol. I am running and skipping almost every day. I don’t make excuses. If I have a cold, tough. If I only have ten of fifteen minutes, tough. My new motto is Do It Anyway!

Is it making a difference? Slowly. Oh, so…slowly.

My body is now a snail, a slug, a tortoise.

It sneers and rolls its eyes and tells me to fuck off.

I jump on the scales every Friday morning and wonder if they are in fact broken.

I get out with the dogs and run faster and further and harder.

I feel my jeans getting looser in the legs and around the waist.

And then the scales say otherwise…

I honestly don’t know what is going on. I mean, maybe it’s just me? Maybe I’m eating more than I realise?? Maybe there is something up with my metabolism!

I only know that I am not going to give up. I am not going to quit and say, okay body you win, I will accept this body wrecked and ruined by childbirth and age. I will take it and be grateful, and I will eat cake and drink wine and never mention it again.

But the problem is the mirror. The old enemy resurfaces. I can’t hold my head up high or look people in the eye when I don’t feel I’m in the right body.

I know it can’t be perfect, and to be honest, perfection was never really the goal. Just feeling happy with it was.

 

From Summer to Autumn, From Baby to Boy

You can’t see changes as they happen.

You only really see it once it’s gone. One moment it’s glorious summer. The grass is dry, the day is long, and everywhere you go it is bright, and green. From the twisty lane, stuffed tight and expanding quickly with ferns, nettles, sorrel and blackberry. To the rows of Oaks and Sycamores, filling the skyline, creating a wall of green, a canopy of leaves. And then suddenly it’s Autumn. The nights are drawing in. The mornings begin to chill. And it’s the same with you. Because there is no straight line between baby and boy. There is no sudden, glaring realisation, only a season of subtle, bitter sweet changes.

As August made way for September, it seemed like the leaves were in a hurry to come down, as was the rain. On the first day of the new Autumn month, we picked leaves up from the lane. You carried them one by one and placed them in the bottom of the buggy. I told you we could stick them to some paper when we got home, to make a tree, and you said ‘yes, mummy’ and ‘deedo, mummy.’ I’m not sure when you will start saying thank you, but I do know you will forever be remembered for saying deedo.

I told you that the leaves were slowly falling from the trees, and you listened and said ‘yes mummy’. Blackberry season is in full swing, the lane bursting with their ripe, purple black colour. We picked some on our walk. You helped me fill a small, round tub, and on the way home, you stood on the back of the buggy and ate half of them. I watched your little hand go in time after time, and when I lifted you down, your lips and cheeks were smeared with purple. You kept saying, ‘one more, one more!’

And I realised how much you have changed over the summer.

My little baby has become a little boy.

Out in the garden you wanted more leaves for your picture. I hung out the washing while you picked them up. Then we stood and watched as the huge sycamore released them, one by one. I picked you up and we listened, hearing the rustle and the shush as each leaf fell in turn through the others, to land softly on the grass. I think we were both amazed by how quickly they fell, by how abruptly Summer must make way for Autumn.

I looked at the deflated paddling pool lying limply over the roof of your playhouse. It’s waiting to be washed and stored away. It made me think of all the long, summer days of bare feet on dry grass, of sticky ice cream faces and water fights.

Already there is a chill in the air first thing in the morning. We await the first frost. The vegetable garden is still producing, but we sense a panic. We marvel daily at the size of the biggest pumpkin and look forward to picking and carving it for Halloween.

After you finished your picture, you helped me make a fruit crumble. Apples and pear and rhubarb and blackberries. The smells of early Autumn bubbling on the stove. ‘Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’ springs to mind, and yes everything seems full and ripe and bursting with life, determined to beat the Winter clock. To remain outdoors for as long as we can.

This summer made so many changes to you, and next summer will make even more.

You entered the  summer a baby and you left it a boy. You started to say mummy, instead of mum-mum. You decided you didn’t want to wear nappies any more, so now you wear pants like a big boy. And then last week, you decided to go to sleep without being breastfed, something I had once thought impossible! You seemed restless, confused, then giggly. So I suggested we cuddle instead, and we did, and that was…that.

Another moment moved on from, another memory formed. Another time of our lives we will never get back again. I lay there every night after that, holding you tight, smiling while I blinked back tears.

You know all of your colours, even grey, purple and black. You try to count things. You like to point at letters and repeat back what I say. You just want to grow up so quickly! You say you are ‘gig’ because you’re not too great with ‘b’. And you like to pack your little bag and declare that you are going to ‘dool’, like your big brother and sisters.

In a few more weeks the trees will be bare. The lane will be covered with dead leaves and the weather will be colder still. The blackberries will be over and the acorns gathered by hungry squirrels. The trees will look so different, always black and silhouetted against the winter sky, beautiful and haunting in equal measures. Summer will seem like a distant memory, as will your babyhood.

Sometimes the hardest thing about life is that we can never go back. New days lurk without warning, new seasons push their way forward, and we never have any choice but to go keep moving. You can’t ever go back, that’s the thing.

 

I love the change of seasons. The end of something and the start of something new. Now is the time I start to feel the childish tingles of Christmas anticipation. But first there is Halloween and Bonfire Night, and I’m already getting excited on your behalf. So much more fun to be had. So many more memories to make.

I can’t help looking ahead to next summer. Wondering how much clearer your speech will be. Wondering what sort of conversations we will be able to have. Wondering what you favourite toys will be. And it seems impossible! Yet I know it will be here in a blink of an eye.

And it’s always sad, yet wonderful and magical, watching you change with the seasons.