“Now, I care about how well my body functions. I care about being strong, being capable of completing tasks.”

My name is Rachel and I blog over at College on Crutches. I have a chronic pain disorder called CRPS, so I’ve been on crutches for over 2 years. I am also an Anorexia survivor, and my relationship with my body has not always been great. I recently wrote a post about my change in perspective in regards to my body while dealing with my pain/crutches.

Mirror, Mirror…

When I look in the mirror, what do I see? Well, first I might casually notice the untimely blemish that has appeared on my face. Or maybe the way my stomach poofs out a bit, evidence of a meal that was just enjoyed. On some days, I see dark brown eyes gazing back at me in the glass. If it’s a bathroom mirror, I look like your average person. Putting my crutches aside, you wouldn’t know anything is wrong. But when I go into my room and see my reflection in my full-length mirror, that’s when it hits me.

“Oh. Yeah. That happened.”

There are some days when it hits harder than others. The days when I stop to look, rather than simply rushing to get ready. I see my compression stocking as fluid leaks through, a reminder that my foot is currently home to multiple ulcers and wounds. I see my calf, thinner than my arm from the muscle that has gone to waste. I see my foot, the size of a football, and wonder if perhaps that’s where the name of the sport came from. I see my lopsided hips, unbalanced from only using one leg. I see my weak muscles, my bent knee, my disfigured limb, and I am once again reminded that I am different.

But then…something changes. There’s a shift in focus as I push the damaged limb aside.

Getting over the reminders of my right leg, I take a glance over to the left one, standing tall. I see the bulging muscle in my calf, making up for the loss in the other leg. I see my thin, bony foot and I am reminded of the weight that it carries each day. I see my thigh, which certainly isn’t “skinny,” but it is built for the task that it is given. Simply looking at my left leg, I look strong. I feel strong. This leg is my saving grace; it is the part of my body that allows me to remain mobile on crutches. It is working double time to make sure I can do what I want.

I then look back up at my arms, ignoring my lower half altogether. I flex my biceps, thinking about the effort that is required of my arms each day. I think about the days when all I wanted was to be able to grasp my hand entirely around my upper arm, desperate to be thinner, searching for control. I ponder how useless they would be if that were the case today. My small, fragile arms would not have held up to the daily beating that they go through on crutches. No, instead, I have strong arms. Muscular arms, something I never wanted but never realized I’d need so badly. I think about my arms, and I am grateful. Who cares if they don’t look perfectly slim in pictures, or if they don’t fit delicately into my hand? They serve an important purpose, one that trumps any desires for the ideal body.

A few years ago, you couldn’t get me to even glance in the mirror without having a complete breakdown. I hated everything about my body, which, in turn, made my life miserable. I used to have an obsession with achieving a certain weight, specific measurement, or tiny clothing size. I thought that if I were smaller, things would be better. But now…well, that just doesn’t seem to matter anymore. Now, I care about how well my body functions. I care about being strong, being capable of completing tasks. I care about using the pieces of my body that do work as much as I can.

When I look in the mirror, I do see the bad leg. I mean, it’s kind of hard to miss. I see the struggle that is still happening on the right side of my body, and it is a bit disheartening, I can’t lie. But more importantly, I see what I have overcome. I see the shift in perspective, in priorities. The bitter reminder of what has happened is softened by the strength of my two arms and one working leg. Instead of crying over that puffy stomach, I smile at the fact that I was able to eat without fear. Rather than hurting myself for having a larger thigh than I “should,” I give myself a high-five for allowing myself to have a muscular left leg.So what if I’m not a size zero? If my body works, then it’s a good day.

Mirror, Mirror, on the wall. We might just become friends after all.

~This Body~

I survived abuse,
I have abused myself.
I’ve survived trauma,
Trusted hands still scare.
My body has been broken,
my flesh pierced- not by choice.
I emerged with a louder voice!
I am not a victim,
But I’m in pain every day.
I AM A WARRIOR.
I fight for my body,
I fight…

A Body of Hope

“My chronic pain will not stop me being happy.”

This piece by Emma Atack, who blogs at The Sun Always Follows Rain, is taken with permission from Pouting in Heels. The original post, with pictures, can be found here.

Hi, I’m Emma.

I might look ‘normal’ on the outside but inside there are titanium rods and screws, repaired disks, muscles that don’t work when they should, muscles which overcompensate and chronic pain.

But do you know what? I wouldn’t change the amazing journey that I’ve been on. So don’t feel sorry for me – it drives me mad when people say ‘poor you’. Instead I hope to inspire.

In 2000 I graduated from the University of Central Lancashire, with a BA (Hons) in Public Relations. I had a couple of jobs before becoming a press officer for a government-funded organisation. During this time I was fit and healthy, went to the gym regularly, and even ran the Great North Run.

2007 was a significant and busy year. I moved house, was promoted to PR Manager and also got married. I’d had a few twinges in my back but thought absolutely nothing of it. Then in the November my back went. And I could not move.

Tests revealed I had the spinal condition Spondylolisthesis, something I had been born with but typically only becomes symptomatic in your twenties. I was 28.

One vertebrae had slipped over another giving me a dent in my back, a prolapsed disk, muscles that were constantly in spasm and leg symptoms. This was never part of my life’s plan.

I was off work for a few months, determined that all would be ok. After I while I returned to work, but struggled to drive, I could not sit for long and was in constant pain so the following August I left the office and never went back.

In 2009 having tried every type of spinal injection, physiotherapy and acupuncture, I had my spine fused. I WOULD make a full recovery.

But I was still in serious pain, still walking with a walking stick and then I had a tear in another disk. Anger and frustration led to depression, which I failed to recognise until everything seemed to go ‘bang’.

I can remember crying solidly for 12 hours and my mother-in-law saying it was time to go to the doctors. Of course as soon as I saw the doctor I started crying who said to me ‘I’m surprised you’ve not been earlier’.

He was right I should have gone earlier – I was very depressed.

Part of the reason I had not wanted to admit this was that my father had taken his own life nine years earlier and I didn’t want to admit to being depressed as some say it can be genetic.

I look back now and think how totally stupid this was, my whole world had fallen apart and I was living in constant pain. Like so many I was being far too hard on myself. I should have asked for help earlier.

In 2011 I had further surgery and was determined to make a full recovery, but like many other people, unfortunately I have gone on to live with chronic pain.

But yet, I’m determined to make the best of things and 2014 IS going to be a great year.

I have finally met a fantastic NHS physio who is treating me as a ‘whole’ person. We are getting to the route of my remaining pain and I am becoming physically stronger every day.

My key phrases throughout my experience have been and remain to be ‘Everything happens for a reason’ and ‘Things always work out in the end’ – I truly believe these words and so should you.