“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.

“Because I deserve to love myself, as everyone deserves to love themselves.”

Trigger warning for emotional abuse and disordered eating

I remember clearly when I first became aware of my body and how I felt towards it; I was only 9 years old and I was in a taxi with a friend from school. It was summer so we were wearing those cycling shorts and t-shirts sets everyone used to wear, mine probably had dolphins on, and my friend pointed out that when we sat down my legs got fatter than hers. Of course I know now that when we sit down our legs squish out a little, it’s natural, but at such a young age and never even having looked at my body to criticise it and I was confused as to why she had pointed it out.

Of course, 9 years old is when your body starts to change, you hit puberty and you start to fill out. I was somewhat of an early developer but I was cripplingly shy and I recall being mortified at a party when I was 11 years old and a girl from my class poked me in the chest and shouted “Look at your boobs, look everyone!” and so, of course, everyone did look. My cheeks burnt and I wanted the ground to swallow me up; I was a very private little girl and having this attention drawn to me was horrific.

It’s little incidents like this that affected how I felt about myself; I was embarrassed and wanted to cover up so no-one else would point anything out. I wore baggy jeans and avoided any kind of tight clothes, probably up until I was 16 years of age. I got away with wearing hoodies because I was ‘alternative’ and ‘individual’ so no-one ever questioned it. I didn’t think about it so much at the time and it is only looking back that I am aware of what I was doing. I was ashamed of my body and the less anyone saw it, the less they could judge me.

I have absolutely no idea why I felt this way about my body; my mother fed us a healthy diet, she never talked about her weight or going on a diet and I don’t remember ever even noticing how other people looked. Even growing up as a teenager I didn’t look at celebrities and wish I could be like them. I used to complain a little about my wobbly belly but I never compared myself to anyone else; this was my own demon and not because of how anyone else looked. I can only imagine because I was so shy I was scared to be looked at, I didn’t want any eyes on me and if I had boobs or hips then people would look.

It was only as I grew into my late teens and early twenties that I really began to put pressure on myself to change the way I looked. I have to say I don’t even think it had anything to do with how I looked, it was just the only sense of control I thought I had. From the age of sixteen upwards I have been through a lot bad things, things I wasn’t mature or experienced enough to deal with (what sixteen year old is?) and by concentrating on my looks I could distract myself from everything going on around me.

By concentrating on my looks I wasn’t wearing nice clothes or styling my hair, I was wearing a lot of makeup to cover my face and trying as hard as I could to stay slim. When I was eighteen I got into my first serious relationship. I had a boyfriend for a year before and he wasn’t particularly nice to me, he left me with a lot of self confidence issues. I can’t say my next relationship left me in any better shape, in fact it left me a lot worse. I was with my ex-fiance for five years and during that time my weight fluctuated a lot. I went from 8 stone to over 11.7 stone, which is horrendous for my tiny 5’3” frame. I was so terribly insecure and I used to put myself down a lot. When your partner put themselves down it is your job to build them back up again, to tell them you love them and why; because they are beautiful. It wasn’t like that at all, for me. I remember one Boxing Day night when we were supposed to be going to a party; I was upset because I couldn’t find anything to fit me and I thought I looked like a whale in everything I tried on. I was having a difficult time in University and me and my best friend at the time had just fallen out. I was clearly putting a lot of my issues onto how I felt about my weight and when I couldn’t decide what I looked the least awful in, my partner got angry and told me how disgusting and fat I was, that he didn’t know why he wanted to be with me. He went to the party and left me at home, sobbing in bed. I was so incredibly low and I hated myself so much, I wanted to hide away and never be found.

It was about six months later when I started to work full time in my job that I started to lose weight. It was natural at first because I was doing a lot more physical work; I was no longer sitting in lectures drinking hot chocolate and eating a Galaxy Caramel but I was lugging heavy boxes around and everyday I was rushed off my feet. Once I had lost half a stone I decided that I really wanted to go for it, I was sick of feeling disgusting and crying when I saw a photograph of myself, I wanted to fix it while I was still young and could enjoy being slim. Over the next year I gradually lost weight, from sticking to a high protein diet, lost 3 stone and for a while I was happy with the results.

This changed, however, when my relationship turned sour (or more sour than it already was!) My partner had been caught sneaking around with another girl behind my back a fair few times, I know I should have left right away but I was living with him now and it wasn’t so easy to just drop everything and start a new life. Eventually, though, I didn’t have a choice. I couldn’t spend my life with someone I couldn’t trust, someone who repeatedly hurt me and looking back was emotionally abusive.

The next few years weren’t particularly good, either. I thought I was having a good year last year until that went wrong too. I had another breakdown in a relationship, I was stressed at work and I was diagnosed as being clinically depressed; I had hit rock bottom. I sat at home for a god few months crying on the couch, thinking about how much I despised myself. How it was my fault that everything had gone wrong and I didn’t deserved to be loved, that I was unlovable anyway. In my last relationship I was incredibly insecure, probably down to the fact that my previous one was so abusive. It was another unhealthy relationship and I never felt my needs were being met but being so emotionally insecure and vulnerable I clung on for as long as I could, which I regret massively. I always felt like I was the unattractive one in the relationship, that I was ‘punching about my weight’ and that soon he would realise it, he would see that he could do better. I had stomach problems for a long time and I couldn’t eat without getting crippling indigestion, this was down to stress. Work became increasingly difficult and the stress and depression got worse, which caused me to drop a lot of weight. When I was signed off work I was so terribly hard on myself, I decided that I wasn’t going to put the weight back on because I was ugly enough as it was; I couldn’t be ugly and fat. I genuinely couldn’t eat due to a combination of heart break, anxiety, stress and my terrible depression. I got so ill that all I could do was lie down, even eating became difficult and I couldn’t hold any food down if I even managed to swallow it. I should have been worried but I wasn’t, you know what I thought? I thought ‘maybe I can lose a bit more weight’ which I know now is a horrific idea. I was skin and bones as it was, I just didn’t care. I didn’t feel like my body was good enough; my ex was an avid gym go-er for his work and I simply didn’t have the time, money or energy to get a gym membership. I can’t say it was his fault but I did always think he wanted me to be a bit more active, a bit more like him. He wanted me to get involved in sports and activities when I didn’t want to and I thought this reflected on me and made me look lazy. I felt like he wanted me to be something I’m not, he wanted me to be athletic and as into working out as much as him. There was never a moment in that relationship when I didn’t feel inadequate.

I can’t tell you how I managed to change how I think about myself; I think one day it just clicked. I decided that I didn’t want to hate myself anymore; I wanted to accept my body as it is and show off everything about it that I love.

I got into a new relationship and my boyfriend is more than wonderful. He is so supportive; he tells me how much he loves me and how much he loves my body. Slowly but surely he’s built my confidence back up to the point where I can look at myself and think ‘Yes, my bum is great!’ In the past I have never been comfortable being naked around a boyfriend, I’ve always felt unattractive. Now, however, I’m happy to strut around my bedroom naked, all my jiggly bits on show and wobbling as I go. I have a confidence that I have never in my life had and I love my boyfriend so much for giving that to me. He doesn’t judge me, he loves me. His words when I said I hate my boobs, I just can’t bear them and I don’t think I ever will be able to, he said “I’ll love them for you, then.” I instantly melted, no-one has ever said anything like that to me and the best thing about it was I could tell he meant it. With him I feel like a goddess and that isn’t an exaggeration. I know how attracted to me he is, he tells me regularly and nothing will boost your confidence than knowing the person you are most attracted to feels the same about you.

I try to blog frequently about positive body image and about my journey to loving myself. I would hate to think that one day I will have children and I would pass my body issues onto them so I am determined to figure mine out. I still have the odd morning where I’ll look in the mirror and think “Your belly is poking out far too much.” But it is just a fleeting thought, I follow it up with “But look at those legs… look at your bum.” Because I deserve to love myself, as everyone deserves to love themselves.

It has been a long seventeen years since I was that nine year old in the back of the taxi being introduced to body image and questioning why my thighs were bigger than my friends. I have had so many low points when I have wanted to stay inside so no one could see me but not anymore. Now I can see a light at the end of the tunnel, I can see a future where I fully embrace myself and I champion my flaws. My big hips? My soft, rounded belly? They’re womanly and I am a grown woman, it’s how I’m supposed to look. I gained back around half a stone and shockingly, I feel better than ever. My boobs have gotten bigger and my bum has filled out. My face doesn’t look gaunt anymore, I always hated that, and I don’t bump my hip bones into things constantly. Would you believe that it’s actually painful to lie down when you’re so skinny? My bones used to poke into the mattress, not something I enjoyed.

I’ve been to both ends of the spectrum, overweight and underweight and I didn’t enjoy either one of them. I’m not supposed to be large, nor am I meant to be skinny. I am meant to be me, as I am now. I am a healthy weight, I fit into my clothes and best of all I’m happy; I smile constantly because this feeling of loving myself? It’s great and it’s not something I plan on giving up any time soon!

Author of the blog Back To Me check it out!

“I try to love and respect my body no matter what I weigh.”

My body and I have had a love/hate relationship for as long as I can remember. I remember when I was younger hating my body because it was different than the other girls. I was short and stubby. My mother would tell me to stand up and suck in, so as not to seem so fat. Around third grade is when I realized, I could change the way I look. By third grade, I started off my first course of bad dieting. Eating carrots, soup, and crackers for months at a time. I equated losing weight to being happy. When I lost weight, I felt great. People would comment on how good I looked or how pretty I looked. Eventually, though, I would gain the weight again, starting the whole process over again.

The time that affected me the most, though, was just a couple of years ago. I was a sophomore and junior in college. I was already a vegan, but I decided that being vegan wasn’t enough to lose weight. At the point, I started eating less and less. I would eat a banana for breakfast, gum for lunch, and iceberg lettuce for dinner. I continued to work out. I quickly noticed my body starting to change, but I still wasn’t happy. No matter what the scale told me, I found myself hating my body and who I had become more and more. This sadness oozed out into my everyday life. I found that I couldn’t connect with people anymore. I couldn’t have fun partying or doing random things with friends.

I hit rock bottom when my doctor explained to me that I was ruining my chances of ever having a child. I had lost my period the beginning of sophomore year and had never gotten it back because I was lacking too many nutrients. At that point, I decided to see a counselor.

This was a changing point for me. While you always hear “love your body” and “you are beautiful”, you never really come to understand how reality is distorted by things such as music videos, magazines, the internet, etc. Everywhere around us, we are bombarded with pictures of women who seem so happy. They are thin, tan, and beautiful. Psychologists sometimes like to call it the halo effect. The halo effect is the assumption that persons who are beautiful are perfect. They have great friends, they’re nicer, smarter, etc. That is what I was attempting to do. I was attempting to become beautiful in my body, so that I could achieve this sense of perfection. If I had a beautiful body, then maybe I would have a happier life.

Nowadays, I realize that this mindset was not going to work out. The way my body looked didn’t have to affect my happiness. I could control that. Since that point I saw the counselor and on, I have still struggled with my body. Now, though, I try to love and respect my body no matter what I weigh. I cherish my friends, family, and experiences in life. I understand that I’m beautiful no matter what my body looks like. There is so much more to me. I’m not saying I have all the right answers, but I think I’m off to a good start with my body.

“My body tells a story; not a story of a victim but one about a survivor.”

*Trigger warning for rape/sexual assault/self-harm/anorexia*

I’ve always been slightly proud of my body.

I’m gay, I have a very liberal attitude to sex and sexuality (I actually work in an erotic boutique!) and, while I’ve never thought my body was ideal, I know that I’m slim and I have nice boobs and a nice be-hind. I’m confident and comfortable in my own skin. It ain’t perfect, but it’s the only one I’ve got so I might as well love it.

I was sexually assaulted and then raped. My initial reaction was to not think about it. To bury it in the recesses of my mind and, essentially, run away, made sense.
I became anorexic and started self-harming. This was because these people, who had taken advantage of me, had so much control over me; even now, when I’ve not seen them for years, they control so much of my life.

I used to be bisexual – now I couldn’t consider having an intimate relationship with a man.

Sometimes, I’d be in a perfectly good mood, when BOOM, I’d start to cry, or to have a panic attack.

Starving or harming myself were forms of control: people who have hurt me controlled my sexuality, my emotions, whether I felt strong enough to out of bed in the morning. I had control over my weight and my physical pain.

I had all these scars over me, and I was dangerously thin. I hated my body. I looked in the mirror and loathed what I saw: a scrawny, scratched and scarred girl. Not the strong confident woman I knew and wanted to be.

Through counselling, support from friends, and learning to accept what happened to me, I got better. It took time and there were so many times I just wanted to give up, but I got better.

Through counselling, I learned not to put what happened behind me or to forget about it, but to confront it, accept it, and move on with it. I now see it as something which shaped me into the strong, confident, compassionate, caring person I am.
And that includes my body. I still use bio-oil to reduce the scars, and I’m no longer underweight, but I love my scars. My body tells a story; not a story of a victim but one about a survivor. Someone who was close to death, who cut herself and who punished her body and nearly gave up on everything and everyone, but didn’t.

My scars say: “remember that time, and be thankful for this time”. They say “you’re a strong, confident woman; you’re not that girl any more”. But most of all, they say “well done”.

“As I get older I find more to appreciate and less to dislike. I can now look at my eating disorder as a blot on the periphery of how I feel about my body rather than a significant feature.”

*Trigger warning for bulimia*

The story of my body is a turbulent one. Like most it’s a constant stream of ups and downs. And to me when you say ‘body’ it translates as ‘weight’. I know for many people it will be the same and it’s quite sad that’s where our minds jump to. So let’s start at the beginning: for most of my childhood I was big, tall and clumsy. Being taller than boys in your class is off-putting and very noticeable; this is where I think my ideas of being bigger began, because I was. I just felt like a big lumbering presence. Then I stopped growing but still held this idea of being ‘big’, of taking up too much space. My weight fluctuated in my teens culminating with an intense and aggressive eating disorder until my early 20s. Sure, the latter – Bulimia – has had the most obvious effect on my relationship with my body but it doesn’t define it. I was lucky though; I got out pretty unscathed – I have been in recovery for 3 and half years and am a mostly happy and healthy size 12. Although there has been lasting damage to my teeth, stomach and heart. That in itself is like a medal of how close I came to the edge and managed to pull myself back. Being ill to that extent makes you glad of what you have, of energy, and having an actual appetite for life. Post-recovery your body becomes a vessel for living rather than harming yourself and you can’t help but view it with slight awe. You have pushed it to the edge and it has weathered the storm. Ok, you may have been battered and bruised along the way but it keeps going on and fighting to keep you here. Even with all this it’s sad to say there will always be a tiny whisper in my head telling me nothing tastes as good as thin feels. It is a shame but I can deal with it. I’ve been through worse.

Now though I just don’t have the stamina to really deprive and hurt myself. If I hate myself at size 8 with a constant cycle of fasts and binges why not just pack it in and still hate yourself but eat what you like and be a size 12? This strange philosophy worked for me and slowly you learn to accept and even gradually like yourself. As I get older I find more to appreciate and less to dislike. I can now look at my eating disorder as a blot on the periphery of how I feel about my body rather than a significant feature. Although, food and my body will always be intrinsically linked to me now – I can’t think of one without the other – it doesn’t inhibit my life or perception. It is perception that matters most to me now. How I perceive something may be far off from the truth. So I go by how my clothes feel rather than the scales and I don’t eat foods that make me bloated and uncomfortable. Like most relationships the one with my body is fluid and I just try and understand that my body is as turbulent as my feelings towards it. It changes from day to day, as much as my own impressions about it do. Sometimes we may go in the same direction other times there will be a clash. Either way I’m quite happy for any negativity to take a back seat most of the time and let me get on with life.

by an anonymous woman, 24

“The most important thing that came from recovery was a newfound, unshakable, almost instinctive respect for my body. It never fails to amaze me just how strong my body can be, and how fine-tuned it is to my needs.”

*Trigger warning for self-harm/anorexia/bulimia*

This is a cliché, but it is difficult to know where to start when writing about my body. From existence? We talk about ‘bodies’ as if they are somehow separate others, yet what am I if not purely my body? Perhaps that scares me more than if my body and mind were separable. Growing up my body was me, always – I ran, or grew, or was damaged in a playground fall – yet at the beginning of the inevitable slide into puberty bodies become something else; untrustworthy objects that swell and act defiantly out of our control, things to be scrutinised and unwillingly accepted with time.

Since around about 2nd year, I increasingly saw my body as something I should use in some way to express myself – whether by trying to distort it to somehow show the ‘real me’ or (this came first) by using it as something which I could use for emotional release. I got into the habit on binge-eating after school to deal with stress and general teenage angst (and then grew increasingly horrified at the weight gain, which felt completely unconnected to my actions); later, when that didn’t help, I got a release from pocket scissors in the webbing of skin between my middle and ring fingers. I wore gloves to hide any marks, but eventually stopped after a mortifying moment when holding hands with a friend.
Every year, I made a secret New Year’s resolution to lose weight, and gain control over my body, and eventually, in 2009 I gained ‘control’ in the form of an eating disorder that effectively lasted for two years, and which still lingers in some ways. The mind-set of these things is incredible – the only way I can describe it is to compare it to an addiction where control, starvation and listening to the commands that eventually occur unprompted in your head are the drugs. The first six months are now a sort of blur of rules and numbers, and a thrill in feeling my body shrink that increasingly gave way to exhaustion, and the unwilling realisation that I, in fact, was no longer the one who had any control at all. Recovery was longer and slower than I ever expected it to be, and in many ways lasted longer than the disorder itself. But the process taught me so much. Calorie-counting is insane! A calorie is the measure of the energy required to heat 1 litre of water by 1 degree C. Thin doesn’t mean healthy, fat doesn’t mean unhealthy. If you listen, physically, bodies tell you what they (you) need. Scales are inaccurate and weight fluctuates by kilos. Most importantly, advertising is mad: for years I failed to see that women are beautiful when they are healthy and confident, not when they starve and pout. I still have difficulty doing this sometimes, but at least I can now see it’s a lie.

The most important thing that came from recovery was a newfound, unshakable, almost instinctive respect for my body. It never fails to amaze me just how strong my body can be, and how fine-tuned it is to my needs. When I starved, my metabolism slowed right down; my periods stopped to save energy; the hair or my arms and face grew longer and faster to keep me warmer; I craved food until I binged. Despite my best efforts it held on to every ounce it could, and kept going. That alone, and the disparity between how I felt and how I feel, have made me eternally grateful for my body – regardless of the occasional hatred of my body’s appearance or new weight – new hips, new boobs, the sour disappointment of ill-fitting clothes – I can’t help but love some small, deeper part of it simply for being alive and strong.

“Woman’s body has been territorialised and yet we are held accountable for the violence carried out on our bodies.”

*Trigger warning for sexual assault/rape/anorexia/bulimia/alcohol abuse*

I was a thin child, undistinguishable from the other lads: a tomboy. The only girl out of a group of 13 who lived in each other’s pockets. We did everything together. I was accepted. Until that is, in the words of Jarvis Cocker: I became “the first girl at school to get breasts”, to menstruate. At the age of ten my life changed completely. Three of these boys stripped me naked in our local park: they grabbed my genitalia and breasts; they pointed at me; they laughed at me. In short, they colonised my body. Their gaze followed me throughout high school. They owned my body in the most negative sense: I became anorexic; I became a compulsive eater; I became bulimic. When I left school I also left the country. Still, I could not escape their mockery.

In my twenties I was raped after passing out at a party. I woke up to find a relative stranger stabbing my body with his penis. I told my mother. She blamed me: “this would not have happened if you had not been so drunk. Had you been leading him on?”, she asked. I did not speak to my Mother for a year. I was disgusted with her. I learned to deal with my obsession with food by turning to alcohol instead. Alcohol provided obliteration and a (very) short term confidence boost. It was a means by which I could have sex with partners who refused to believe I could not have sex with them due to triggering affects such encounters had on my mind. Obviously being raped should not be traumatic enough to dull the desire for a sensitive lover such as you! Such is the mind of man under patriarchy.

After getting lucky with a great therapist and much hard work and facing up to reality on my part I am now learning to befriend my body. I no longer abuse alcohol. This has been the greatest step in being able to realise my self-worth. I do not need to obliterate my feelings any more because they are largely positive. I desire lucidity because I want to remember all my experiences to the full. Occasionally, I still find myself obsessing over food but, fuck it! Who doesn’t! If I want to eat Nutella from the jar I will and I won’t feel guilty about it. I do, however, make sure that I exercise and have plenty of fruit and veg in my diet. Not because I want to become a rake but because I want to be healthy (both mentally and physically) and live for a very long time.

I have forgiven my mum, I have forgiven those boys, I have forgiven my rapist. I know why the world is a mess. Capitalism and patriarchy endorse the commodification of women. Woman’s body has been territorialised and yet we are held accountable for the violence carried out on our bodies. I know this and my empowerment comes from taking steps with other amazing. analytical-minded people to change this. When I do think on these people it is with pity and the knowledge that I am strong, that nothing can defeat me. I would not have this without the community of women I hold so dear. As I cry writing this it is with pride and happiness.

– by rouge