The Body Is Not An Apology

Fostering Radical Unapologetic Self Love, Body Empowerment and Healing Around the WORLD!

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Learning about Less: Taking Care of a Body in Pain

by Mariel Berger, Guest Writer

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Photograph by Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg

[Image description: This photograph, taken from the top of a mountain in Hinsdale, NH, shows a cloudy sky with blue mountains in the background, dark green trees in the middle distance with homes and roads scattered throughout, and small olive-green shrubs and sumac in the foreground.]

Because of nerve and disc damage gone too long undetected from my bike accident three years ago, my body has seized up. After I left the hospital, I refused to let pain limit my way of life and very quickly went back to playing a heavy accordion, running miles every day, and doing other activities not good for a recently torn body.

For most of my life, I refused to acknowledge physical pain. I fiercely believed in mind over matter and that I could push myself to be more than my body. I often escaped pain by staying in my head and reading or doing any other pure intellectual pursuit.

For me, living fully meant ignoring the limitations of the body. I would go on a run even if I were writhing in pain from cramps. I would bike everywhere, refusing to take the subway even if I had to go as far as Washington Heights. There were numerous summer days that I rode my bike an hour to the beach, played soccer and ultimate frisbee, swam in the ocean for hours, and then rode all the way home.

All of these extreme physical activities were more of a mental experience. I wasn’t actually deeply in my body sensing what I could handle. If I had been fully in my body I would have felt the subtle aches – tiny cells crying for a rest.

Two years ago, there was a vibrant house concert followed (as usual) by a crazy dance party. I had been having a lot of tension in my shoulders and back, but I had been ignoring it, thinking it would pass. During the raging dance party, I was so exhilarated by the explosive energy around me that I danced on top of chairs, jumped up and down to Beyonce, and threw myself on the ground trying to slide across the room to “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.”

The next morning I woke up feeling shitty, but figured my morning run would snap me back into place. And that’s when my body broke.

When I saw an acupuncturist, he asked me how I had gotten to this point and why I hadn’t come in earlier. I said I thought I was stronger than my pain. I thought that living fully was living extremely. I felt that I had to push myself in order to be more – in order to be recognized.

Had the person I was so in love with at the dance party noticed me? (It’s hard to miss the silly girl dancing on the couch.)

If, all my life, I’d held to the belief that I had to be MORE and BETTER in order to be loved, why would I stop for a moment to rest?

Why would I only practice piano/accordion for two hours when there were ten more hours that I could be getting better?

Why would I hang out with friends at night if I could bury myself in my journals and write and read into the night?

I would only be seen if I were different and GREAT. How tiring it is to be at war with myself! But the younger me didn’t realize how much the war was hurting – and that both sides were losing.

This past summer, my body started to crumble more. And now, I am seized up in pain from years and years of ignoring asymmetries and tension in my body. Now, I move slowly – not by choice, but because my muscles are frozen trying to fiercely protect damaged nerves. I have eliminated all of my activities down to the most essential.

I am learning about less.

Yesterday, all I did was go on a walk for 20 minutes when pain started shooting up my back and into my neck, shoulders, and head. Now, I HAVE to listen to my body because it is SCREAMING all of the time. There is no mind over matter. Actually, the mind does not matter!

I don’t care about stimulating and expanding my mind if it means I’m disconnected from the rest of my body. The ONLY thing that matters is being present each and every moment INSIDE my body, aware of its sensations. It took the crying and neglected child to run away in order for the parent to realize that the most important thing in life is paying attention to the child.

My body will heal. Right? And when it does, I promise I will NEVER take my physical health and mobility for granted.

Two days ago, a good friend was over, and I was heating my lower back with a hot-water bottle to help my spasming muscles. We were talking and, at times, I noticed that it was REALLY hot on my back, but I was completely absorbed in our conversation. I was even telling him about my new revelation that I don’t pay attention to my body when it’s in pain.

After he left, I touched my lower back and, to my surprise, found a blister the size of a quarter from the heat burning my skin. I had been so hyper-attentively involved in the conversation that I let myself get burned! I guess learning to slow down and listen to my body takes time. I can’t just suddenly change life-long habits.

Extreme can’t be countered with more extreme.

Years ago, I was in Costa Rica working on a farm, and one of my life mentors, Chandra, gave me advice to stay more grounded in my body and connected to the earth. She suggested walking very slowly, bare-footed, focusing on the sensation of each step.

So I, the overachiever, decided that I would practice this a LOT and intensely in order to get enlightened FAST. I spent an entire day walking barefoot throughout the farm and forest, even in the rough, rocky parts. I came back to her with blisters and cuts on my feet.

She laughed. “I didn’t say to go walk on sharp rocks!”

I laughed too. Luckily, being human is hilarious. And luckily, life keeps offering gentle (and harsh) reminders, and many, many more chances to learn.

As I sit now in acute pain, I ask for some more chances, and I will try to stay here in my experience – to stay here in my body, noticing everything. For even in the times of extreme pain, there are subtle things changing slowly.

I will try to wait for the healing that comes simply by being tenderly present in my life.

Mariel Berger is a composer, pianist, singer, teacher, writer, and gardener living in Brooklyn, NY. She has been playing the piano since she was three and, in the last seven years, has taken to writing poetry and prose. Having recorded her debut singer-songwriter CD in May of 2014, Mariel has bridged her two passions of music and poetry.She writes for Tom Tom Magazine, which features female drummers, and hosts a monthly house concert series promoting women, trans*, and gender-non-conforming musicians and artists. She gets her biggest inspiration from her young music students who teach her how to be gentle, patient, joyful, and curious. You can find her website at www.marielberger.com.

Having been dealing with chronic pain in this past year, Mariel is learning the powerful lesson of slowing down and living more fully in her body. Her pain is teaching her how to be more loving with herself and those around her. Mariel longs for a softer and slower world – one in which there is more space and time for healing and care. She is learning the powerful lesson of slowing down and living more fully in herbody. Her pain teaches her how to be more loving with herself and those around her.

Filed under Mariel Berger disability pain body positivity the body is not an apology self-care women girls

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I Will Not Apologize: Living with My Body after Cancer

by SarahCate Philipson

[Image description: The graphic consists of the word “Apologies,” in black capital letters, with a red circle around it and a red diagonal line through it.]

I was 9 years old when I first remember feeling fat. It was the dawning of my first period, shortly after my 9th birthday, that probably did it. While the other girls were hopping in and out of the pool in their faux-bikinis, I sat in shorts, shifting awkwardly over my too-big pad, running out of excuses as to why I wasn’t diving in with my usual gusto.

And, of course, with menstruation came all the greatest hits: bloating, water weight, weight gain, zits, cramping – the works. I continued to develop on an earlier track than my classmates. I nearly died the day in 5th grade when a girl asked me what I was unwrapping in the bathroom stall. I didn’t want anyone to know just how “ahead” of things I’d gotten.

But on the playground, there aren’t many places to hide when the only other seven girls in your class gather around to talk about how much they weigh while standing by the monkey bars. I still remember the shock on their faces when I admitted to being 105 pounds at 11 years old. I wasn’t even the tallest in our group.

Looking back now, of course, I can see the normally developing body that carried me to and fro. Knowing what I know now, I can acknowledge the body that was developing into its own normal.

But in the years between nine and 29, my body was foreign territory – unfamiliar, unwanted, developing, and changing without my approval or understanding. Fueled by issues of abuse prior to age nine, I’d lost the art of claiming and recognizing my own flesh and bone. My sudden and early development into “womanhood” further separated me from any sense of bodily autonomy, much less acceptance.

At 29, I found the woman I still call “Supertherapist” and, in a grueling series of therapy appointments, combined with my own discovery of the fat-positive movement, I did something I’d not done in years – I looked at myself in the mirror. Without crying. I learned to become familiar with my own curves – the valleys and marks and scars that made up the woman I’d grown into.

We ended therapy as I overcame the final obstacle of putting my childhood abuse behind me. And for a little over a year I relished my body – fat and all. I wore dresses and skirts. I went out with friends. I held my head higher, walked taller, and felt more at ease than I hadever imagined possible.

And then, six months before my 30th birthday, a bomb dropped. The year-plus of horrifying pain I’d been experiencing was finally diagnosed: Stage 3C Uterine Cancer. Cue six more months of surgeries, radiation, and chemotherapy. With sickness, weight loss, scars, recovery, side effects, exhaustion, weight gain, and lingering long-term issues from my chemo regimen, I find myself back in familiar territory.

I no longer recognize the body that carries me around. More than that, I find that accepting it and loving it is painfully difficult. Because of neuropathy that began during chemo but that refuses to dissipate, I spend every waking moment in pain. I’m marked with scars and pocks from surgical entry points during my hysterectomy and a resulting infection. My belly, once round and smooth and soft is now cleft with a vertical scar that is flanked with small round scars where laproscopic instruments assisted the removal of my tumor-ridden uterus.

I don’t understand this post-cancer body. I don’t recognize it. I don’t know how to claim it and take ownership of it the way I did before cancer. But I’m trying.

I try to remind myself that this body survived. That this body is still Mine. Still me. I try to lay claim to the crushing pain in my feet, the stiffness and sharpness in my hands that have forced me to put away both my photography and jewelry-making. I try to look in the mirror and see myself with the same enthusiasm I had in those brief months between self-love and surgery. I’m trying to get used to rocking my dresses with my specialty stabilizing sneakers.

For an art project, I recently paraphrased a post I saw online: “My body is a landscape and I will not hate the valleys for being too winding nor the sea for being too vast.” The phrasing stuck with me for weeks and, for the first time in more than a year, I sat and rubbed lotion on my scarred and uneven stomach. I caressed my screaming feet. I touched fingertips to fingertips and remembered that this landscape is my own. Changed by its own erosion, growth, fire, even quakes at its very core – it still remains MINE.

I owe the world no apologies for this body. I owe myself none either. I accepted a course of treatment designed to save my life. I live with the changes that treatment created. I will not apologize for my survival. I will not apologize for my post-cancer body.

Do you hear me? I will stop apologizing for this post-cancer body – most of all, to myself.

SarahCate Philipson is a gifted artist who has the ability to capture beauty and emotion in several different genres.  Years of training in California made her an accomplished musician; photographing landscapes in Oregon gave her a love for being behind the camera; and now, back in her native Texas, Sarah’s pursuit of a degree in Digital Media Technology has opened a door to the world of graphic design  She is a 32-year-old cancer survivor currently disabled by side effects from cancer treatment more than a year ago. In the meantime, while pursuing her degree one class at a time, she produces beautiful illustrations of other chronically ill and/or disabled individuals, hoping to raise visibility of chronic conditions and the lives of the people that live with them.

When asked why she submitted this piece, SarahCate wrote, “I submitted to The Body is Not an Apology because, after spending 20 years of my life hating myself, hating my body, and wanting to cease existing, I finally began to embrace that I am never going to be what society wants me to be.  I finally learned not just to accept my body as it is, but to love it.  After being disabled by the treatments that ended my cancer, I’m struggling to relearn some of that love.  I hope that my experiences and my visions of that struggle might help someone else to know they’re not alone.”

Filed under SarahCate Philipson the body is not an apology cancer body positivity disability fat acceptance

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Don’t Be a Prisoner of Sexual Myths about Disability

by Sharina Jones, Guest Writer

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[Image description: The photograph shows the author smiling and sitting in a manual wheelchair with her hands on the rims. She has dark skin, shoulder-length brown hair, and dark eyes. She is wearing gray pin-striped pants and a gray pin-striped top with a white, short-sleeved blouse under it. She is sitting on a wooden bridge with water, green grass, and trees visible behind her.]

The myth that people with disabilities do not have or enjoy sex is so far from the truth that I feel the need to dedicate an entire blog to it!

Sexuality doesn’t have to end after a disability. There are numerous ways to experience sexual pleasure and to express your sexuality. Everyone is different, so no two people are going to feel the same. But even if someone loses feeling in their genital area, they can still have sex, feel love, have pleasure, and and experience orgasm.

I have spoken to countless numbers of people about having sex as a person with a disability. And the number one thing most people wanted to convey was that there is much more to sex than just the intercourse – that foreplay was very important to them in a sexual relationship.

Myths about sex and people with disabilities:

1. They don’t have sex.
2. They don’t enjoy sex.
3. They can’t feel anything.
4. They can’t orgasm.
5. They just lay there in bed lifeless during sex.
6. All male wheelchair users have a problem getting and keeping an erection.
7. They can’t have children.

In her article “Disabled Still Have Sex Lives,” Gina Shaw quotes Beverly Whipple, PhD, RN, FAAN, a professor emerita in the college of nursing in the neuroscience center at Rutgers University:

Many people who have, through spinal cord injury or other neurological disorders, lost all feeling or sensation in their genital areas can still experience orgasm as a result of genital stimulation, Whipple says. She’s done a wide range of laboratory studies involving women with spinal cord injuries, and they report having orgasm from genital stimulation, feeling it above the level of their injury. “They report that it feels just like the orgasm they had before their injury, except they feel it only in part of their body,” Whipple says.

In one study, 16 women with various levels of complete spinal cord injury (below vertebra T-6, meaning that they were paraplegic, not quadriplegic) were compared with five women who had no spinal cord injury. Each used a specially designed tool to stimulate themselves in vaginal and cervical areas as well as in other parts of their body above the level of their injuries where they felt especially sensitive.

"Only one of the non-spinal-cord-injury women had an orgasm, while three of the women with [spinal cord injury] had an orgasm in the laboratory," Whipple says. "One had six orgasms during the experiment. One had never had any sexual stimulation in the two years since her injury, and these were her first."

If there’s no “feeling” below the waist, then what explains these sensations? Whipple notes that a nerve bundle called the sensory vagus bypasses the spinal cord, carrying nerve impulses directly from the genitals to the brain. So even if the spinal cord is damaged, “pleasure” messages can be carried through the sensory vagus from the genitals to the brain, triggering the experience of orgasm.

Whipple and her colleagues even confirmed this theory by doing PET scans of women with complete spinal cord injury. These tests showed that an area of their brains that is connected to the genitals through the sensory vagus was indeed receiving signals. (Web MD 2001)

Even if you do not have the same sensation as before an injury, an orgasm and pleasure are still an option. You might have to think of non traditional methods of reaching an orgasm, such as using different touches, sex toys, scents, and imagination. Many people, disabled or not, need the build up to achieve an orgasm. I know most of us don’t talk about it, but it needs to be said. I was injured when I was five years old, so I had never awakened my sexual drive. I could not compare my first sexual experience as a disabled woman to a pre- and post-injury experience. I was speaking with a good friend the other day and she said, yes it’s different, and it takes me much longer to orgasm, but in a way, it’s much better. She then told me that she now has multiple orgasms and she is more in sync with her body. I spoke with a different friend who has been disabled since birth and her experience is much like mine. She has a healthy sex life and doesn’t have issues being satisfied sexually.

So let’s talk about some non-traditional ways to help you reach your goal:

1. Tease yourself before you start.
2. Try sex toys (nipple vibrators, sex swings, massage oils and sexual lubricants). Maybe a dash of warming lubricant on your neck might get you excited.
3. Try to engage all of your senses: light a candle, get a tasty treat to use like whipped cream, visually make your room appealing and sexy.
4. Get to know your body so you know what you like and don’t like.

I couldn’t write this blog without mentioning safety. Remember that just because a person has a disability doesn’t mean they can’t get pregnant or get sexually transmitted diseases. So please use protection to help protect against STDs and pregnancies.

I could go on and on about this topic, but I think this is a good base for everyone. Remember: everyone is different and everyone’s experiences are different.

Thanks,

Sharina

Citations

Graham. “Dating Paraplegics: The Ultimate Guide.” Mad Spaz Club. Mad Spaz Club, 18 Sept. 2011. Web. 27 Mar. 2014.

Web MD. “Disabled Still Have Sex Lives.” Sex Life for Disabled People. Web MD, 4 June 2001. Web. 27 Mar. 2014.

Sharina Jones has been a gunshot survivor since the age of 5. She is the President of Think Beyond the Chair, a non-profit that provides social activities, events, support, and advocacy for people with disabilities. She has written her autobiography, Life of a Push Goddess, and is currently writing her second book. She received her BS in Marketing from Oakland University and her MBA from Wayne State University. She is married to Grover Jones and they currently reside in Michigan. This post first appeared on her blog Push Goddess and is reprinted by permission.

Filed under sharina jones disability sexuality girls women gun violence the body is not an apology

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On Illness, Belief, and Saying Yes

Andrea Gibson’s essay is submitted as part of The Body is Not An Apology’s #WhenWeSayYES Campaign. Raising money to build the world’s most powerful radical self love website. Give Here:www.igg.me/at/whenwesayyes

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[The above photograph is of Artist Activist Andrea Gibson in a bent over squatting position. Their hands are crisscrossed and cupping below their knees.  They are wearing brown, laced dress shoes, black jeans that are cuffed at the ankles. There is a set of keys hanging from their right hip. They are wearing a fitted red and black plaid button up shirt with sleeves rolled above their elbows and stark black suspenders. Their hair is nearly shaved on the right and left side with longer bangs that slightly drape over the left side of their forehead. The back is shoulder length with shaved sides. Their facial expression is intentional, holding and soft. They are stooped in front of a body of water with a rusted metal structure back and to the right of them and a faint cityscape in the distance behind them.] 

I’m gonna come right out and own the fact that I’m a hypochondriac.  For as long as I can remember I have been unusually anxious about my health.   When I was a kid my mother made a list of all my ailments and hung the list on the refrigerator hoping it might open my eyes to how unlikely it would be for a person to actually have that many things wrong with them at one time.  On any given day the list might read something like this:


1)  Tongue feels swollen when drinking juice

2)  Potential black widow bite on left ankle.

3)  Feels like there’s TV static in my left big toe

4)  Ears ring after hoola-hooping

5)  Skin cancer freckles

6)  Popping kneecap, possible dislocation?

7)  Heart isn’t beating right

8)  Asthma around the bbq grill

9)  Skin turns to grandma skin in the bathtub


I’ve had the privilege of having had enough therapy to understand where my fears are rooted, to know how they came about, and over the years I’ve managed to build some sincere compassion for the part of me that hasn’t always felt instinctively safe in my skin.  I also feel particularly fortunate that when I’m not in perceived immediate danger, I can step back and find some humor in the extraordinary imagination of my fearful brain.  But in the moment when IT is happening, IT is never a pretty sight.  Take for example the time i ate a handful of peanuts on the airplane then immediately convinced myself i had a deadly peanut allergy that was certain to kill me by asphyxiation thirty thousand feet above De Moines, Iowa.  I was sweating and gasping and grabbing my throat in a humiliating scene that I am sure made the flight attendant the hit storyteller of all her future holiday parties.  When i eventually crawled back to reality, I had the same thought I always have after I’ve survived another run in with mind, “What is going to happen if I ever really get sick?”


In 2010, after several years of feeling generally not well, I woke up one morning with a sore neck.  By that evening my elbows and wrists were throbbing and pain was radiating through my arms and hands.   Within two week I had to hold myself back from screaming whenever I moved any part of my body.  If you’ve ever had a charlie-horse in your leg, imagine that kind of shocking pain in every muscle and joint, and imagine it every single day for nearly a year while desperately knocking down the doors of scores of doctors who can’t figure out what you have.  I remember being curled up on the floor of the Minneapolis airport after the last poetry tour I ever did without the help of a tour manager, knowing i would not be able to walk to my next gate. I was sobbing into the phone, my doctor’s sweet-hearted nurse having no idea how to respond to my screams, “My veins feel like they’re full of crushed glass! My blood feels like it’s made of crushed glass! Please please please help….”   


My spirit, during that time, atrophied as quickly as my muscles. Everyday I would wake up wanting to die and everyday i grew increasingly more ashamed that i could no longer take care of myself.   I couldn’t comb my hair without my shoulder stiffening into a hot cramp.  I couldn’t drive my own car because it hurt too badly to shift gears.  I couldn’t carry my laptop from one room to another. I couldn’t even sit on my ass, because my ass had literally disappeared and you can’t balance on an un-cushioned tailbone without pain.


It took almost a year, thousands of dollars in tests and doctors bills, and a seemingly unending maze of humiliation from the medical industry before i finally got diagnosed with Chronic Lyme Disease, a disease surrounded by political controversy at least partly born in the deep pockets of insurance companies who want to deny its existence so they don’t have to pay for its treatment. It probably goes without saying that a disease that people deny exists is the last disease a hypochondriac wants to tell people they have.  So when THE BODY IS NOT AN APOLOGY called me last week, almost 4 years after I started treatment for Lyme, asking, “Would you be willing to write something about your process of learning to say yes to loving your body while living with an illness,” I’ll be totally honest, my first response was “Absolutely not.”  


What eventually started stirring my YES, was realizing my primary resistance to speaking about my experience throughout these past years has been my fear of not being believed.  And while my particular history of run-ins with innocent packages of airplane peanuts has likely made me uniquely sensitive to the matter, our culture is notorious for refusing to believe the experiences of chronically ill people, not only people with Lyme.  What comes of that is not just an immeasurable amount of isolation and invisibility, but also unthinkable numbers of people who will suffer or die without ever getting the diagnosis, treatment or support they need.  If you’d like a resource for learning about Lyme I highly recommend checking out this site:   http://www.ilads.org  Something I learned years ago in conversations with trauma survivors is one of the most important things you can ever say to a person is, “I believe you.”  I know the instances in my life where I have personally failed to do that have caused an overwhelming amount of pain.


Over the last 4 years while undergoing intensive treatment for Lyme through a combination of eastern, western and holistic medicines, I have been extremely lucky to watch my health  improve.   Though I still have hard days, and though I often feel sadness about what i can’t do and what i may never be able to do, the experience of living with an illness has in so many ways positively changed my relationship to my body.   During my first year of treatment on a particularly difficult day, I was having a conversation with Carolyn Suslovich, a mentor/therapist/teacher of mine who has been living with Lyme for the past 30 years.  Sobbing into my hoodie in her couch in Denver I said, “I hate my body.  And my body hates me. My body is my biggest enemy.”  With her usual kind-hearted patience Carolyn said, “I think I have the opposite experience.  When I feel really sick, I feel extremely aware of how hard my body is working, how hard it is fighting to keep me alive. On my worst days I feel so much love and gratitude for each and every cell of my body working to pull me through.”  I’m not sure I’ve ever had the experience of having my perspective changed so quickly.  In that instant, I started seeing my body as my ally, and i started nurturing a new belief that i could trust my body to tell me the truth.  Pain, after all, is the body talking.  Panic is the body talking.  More times than not the message is simply, “There is more to heal.”  


Someone told me a few years ago that when a human dies the soul misses the body, actually grieves the loss of its pulse, its lips, its toes, its hands and all they could hold.  I think much of learning to say yes to loving body has had to do with learning to live in gratitude for everything my body feels, even its hurt and its terror, because of the truths those feelings surface.  That doesn’t mean I don’t scream at the top of my lungs when I’m in pain, and it certainly doesn’t mean you’ll want to sit in my row if you ever see me eating nuts on an airplane, but it does mean the list of things I appreciate about my body is now longer than that list of things that once scared me to death, and I feel good about saying I think that’s a solid start.



About Andrea Gibson

Andrea Gibson is a spoken word artist and the first winner of the the Women’s World Poetry Slam.  Gibson has toured venues around the world with readings on war, class, gender, bullying, white privilege, sexuality, love, and spirituality.  They have released six full length albums and published two books, Pole Dancing to Gospel Hymns, and The Madness Vase.   Gibson is co-founder of “Stay Here With Me”, an online space working to prevent suicide by using art to decrease the isolation, shame, and suicidality experienced by many in relation to trauma and mental illness.

 

 

Filed under Andrea Gibson WhenWeSayYes chronic lyme disease queer activist visibility

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Singledom: The Art of Being Free

by Levi Caudill, Guest Writer

Source: Keepcalm-O-Matic

[Image description: Against a red background with a white crown on top, the text reads, in white letters, “I’m single and I like it.”]

My name is Levi Caudill and I was born and raised in Kansas. When I turned 30, I decided to leave my life as I knew it and move to Florida. That move was the best decision that I have ever made, as it allowed me to find myself. I learned a lot about who I am, what I stood for, and what kind of life I wanted to lead. It also taught me to love myself inside and out with no apologies for who am I and what I will become.

As we grow up, it’s engrained in us that there is a certain path that we should follow. Getting your education, learning to be a productive member of society, finding a partner to share your life with, starting a family to call your own, and work until death or retirement – whichever may come first.

While circumstances – such as divorce, infertility, disabilities, or the basic lack of desire to make something of yourself – can change this path, we’re still raised with the idea that this path is the only acceptable path to follow. To step outside of it can often be misunderstood or even looked down upon.

What do you mean you don’t want to have children?

What do you mean you don’t want to go to college?

What do you mean you want to be single?
There it is. Perhaps the most puzzling question of them all. Making the conscious choice to be single, to not seek a partner in life, to choose to be your own better half. We just want you to be happy. We just want you to find someone special to share your life with. These are statements that the single person is bound to encounter at some point in their life. What if I am what makes me happy? What if I am the special person that I want to share my life with? This, for most, is baffling. The concept of choosing to be single is something they can’t wrap their minds around.

There are over seven billion people in this world, yet we are told to find the ‘one’ – the ‘one’ that complements and/or completes us. The ‘one’ that is our end-all, be-all. To me, this idea is unrealistic. Are we really supposed to sift through the masses to find the ‘one’? That seems so unattainable.

Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that the ‘one’ is out there. How are we know they’re even in our same city? Our same state? Our same country? Many would call this pessimistic, but I consider this to be more than logical. Numbers don’t lie.

I will say that I believe in fate. I think that most things happen for a reason – even if it’s a reason we don’t understand or may never understand. I also believe in soulmates. I think that there are kindred spirits out there who can complement our souls in such a way that it feels as though we’ve known them since the beginning of time. However, the idea of having 
one soulmate is also unrealistic to me. Who’s to say that soulmates have to be romantic? I have many soulmates. I have a wonderful family, wonderful friends, and a wonderful support system. I consider all of these people to be my soulmates. They all complement me in one way or another. They know me inside and out. They’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly. They understand me, they get me, and they love me all the same. To me, a soulmate can play any role in your life. My soulmates are, by far, my biggest blessing.

With all of that said, I have chosen a life of singledom. I have chosen to be free from the “flavors of entanglement,” as Alanis Morissette so beautifully put it. I have made a personal choice that is mine and mine alone. This is the life that I want to lead. I am not a victim of circumstance. I chose this path. This path was not chosen for me. I have loved and I have lost, I have won and I have failed, I have lived and in many ways I have died. It took many, many years to realize that I am in control of my life. I am in control of my happiness. I am in control of my destiny. I may be flawed, but I am certainly not broken. While the things that have happened may have
shaped me, they certainly have not made me. It took years of trial and error and much self-reflection to lead me to the decision to be single – a decision that I did not take lightly. I didn’t wake up one day and say ”you know, I think I’ll just be single forever.” It took a lot of internal deliberations to come to the conclusion that this is what’s right for me. This is what works best for me

Have there been outside factors that have had an influence on this decision? Absolutely.

I want to do what I want, when I want, however I want, with whomever I want. I have no desire to be accountable to or for another. I have no desire to take anyone else into consideration when making decisions that have a direct impact on my life. I am extremely selfish in this sense and this is not necessarily a bad thing. It took a lot for me to realize and accept this. While many are going to jump to the “you’re just an asshole” conclusion, I challenge you to think about what’s more selfish: being selfish and single or being selfish in a relationship? It is my belief that, if more people could realize and accept this, then that would fix a lot of broken relationships.

It’s not as though I am completely inconsiderate. I lean upon and value the opinions and viewpoints of my inner circle. I always take my support system into consideration. However, when it comes down to things that directly affect me, my daily life, or my overall happiness, I will be the one to have the final say. I am the one who has to go to bed with and wake up to every action I take and every decision I make. I am the one who has to live with the consequences of said actions and choices. Therefore, they are mine and mine alone.

In addition, I have a mental health disorder that I have to work hard to manage. I am, in myself, a full-time job. Taking care of me is priority one, as it should be. I don’t always have a lot to offer to others when my energy is spent on making sure I get through each and every day in one piece. I have worked long and hard to get to where I am at today. It’s taken me an abundance of therapy, three stays in psychiatric facilities, and the right combination of medications to stabilize myself. I’ve bit and scratched, and cried and clawed my way to the top of my game. To be frank, I worked my fucking ass off to be where I am at this exact moment in time. I have spent years fighting my inner demons to get to this level of happiness and contentment. Though I still have a
long way to go, I have come so very far. When managing mental health issues, you have to be aware of the situations you put yourself into and the people you surround yourself with. As someone whose boat can easily be rocked, I am simply not willing to let anyone or anything throw me out of balance. I’ve worked too hard for too long to take a risk on something that has no guarantees.

More and more people are choosing this life for personal reasons (like myself) and professional reasons (like focusing on their careers). Some are busy making a living instead of making a life. Again, there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. It is a personal choice that should not be looked down upon or judged. Do people like myself look down upon others who have chosen the straight and narrow? Absolutely not. To each their own. Who am I to say what’s best for you and who are you to say what’s best for me? Personal choices are just that. Personal. It’s not something to be argued or debated. It is what it is. Period. What it boils down to is respect for others’ decisions or choices that may not match up exactly to yours.

Growing up in a town of fewer than 3,000 people, I experienced homophobia at its worst. The name-calling, the threats of violence, the damage to personal property – all to prove a point that I was less than everyone else. Reaching adulthood and being diagnosed as bipolar was yet another stigma that I had to overcome. The looks, the stares, the whispers, the assumptions that I was less than everyone else yet again. Now I’ve come to a place in my life where my choice to be single and free is looked down upon and/or misunderstood since I’m not following the ‘norm’ of society, no matter what that may look like.

I’m hoping that my path and my experiences can help others understand the life of singledom and the art of being free.

Filed under Levi Caudill bipolar disability singledom the body is not an apology

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Whose Body Is It Anyways?

by Kaley Roosen, Guest Writer

image

Source: DoctorDisability

[Image description: Against a blue background with a white border, the graphic shows two white hands nearly cupped together with a wheechair icon between them.]

When I was in the 10th grade, like most students, I started thinking about what I was going to do after high school. However, unlike many high school students, I was concerned about who was going to help me get ready every morning once I moved out of my parents’ home. I have muscular dystrophy, a progressive muscle-wasting disease that impacts the muscles in both my legs and arms. I had been just two years shy of using a wheelchair at that point. Going from standing to sitting all day, I had gained some weight. And weight gain for a disabled woman, I learned, was not an option.

At first it was my doctors. They warned me that my parents would not be able to lift me all my life and that I would have to find a new way to transfer from sitting to standing. This scared me. Terrified me! If no one would be able to lift me, how would I ever leave the house again or use the washroom? Then there were my attendants, who frequently made comments about my weight and how difficult it was to help me. The thought of not being able to move out on my own and go to university also terrified me.

Because of this, I started to diet, but as with any diet, especially for a person who can’t exercise, it didn’t work so well. I had to keep cutting out more and more in order to continue to lose weight. And I did lose weight. As I did, the compliments grew. But, they weren’t the compliments that you would expect. I wasn’t told that I looked better in my clothes; I was told that it was so much easier to lift me. I wasn’t told that I appeared to be healthier; I was told that it was so much easier to help me pull up my pants. The compliments weren’t about me. Rather, they were about how much easier I had made it to help me.

Persons with physical disabilities are often told that they must change their body in some way in order to make it easier on their caregivers. This becomes a huge problem in encouraging weight loss, especially for a population that is already at risk for weight gain because of numerous factors, such as low income and difficulty with movement and exercise. Weight loss is not just seen as preferred; it is seen as necessary for your very survival. When you place such high stakes on weight loss, the means to achieve that weight loss becomes less important, even if it means that a person is starving.

Health care providers and caregivers need to be aware of how powerful this fear can be on persons with physical disabilities. It is not just enough to scare us into a lower weight category; equal attention must be paid to the means to achieve that weight loss. Often, weight maintenance methods are inaccessible for persons with disabilities. Very few gyms have adaptive equipment and, if they do, can often have costs beyond the means of a disabled person’s income. More work is needed in supporting persons with disabilities to achieve a healthy lifestyle, independent of their size.

Regardless of how much assistance we require, our bodies belong to us. Disabled or not, steps need to be taken to reclaim OUR bodies.

Kaley Roosen is a senior doctoral student in Clinical Psychology. Her research interests fall broadly in the area of health psychology and disability studies. She studies eating and weight management (from eating disorders to obesity), disability, and preventative health care for ‘at-risk’ groups. Her dissertation examines the experiences of disordered eating and body image issues in women with physical disabilities. She also works clinically both with women with disabilities and women with eating disorders. Kaley uses her personal experience as a woman with a physical disability and as a disability advocate to help inform her research and clinical practice.

When asked why she submitted this piece, Kaley wrote: “I submitted this piece to TBINAA because, as a woman who uses a wheelchair, I have struggled to accept my own body in a culture that discredits both disabled and overweight bodies. After speaking to various women with disabilities and studying eating disorders on a clinical level, I have come to realize just how pervasive this internalized view of ourselves as ‘too much’ (too much work, taking up too much space, etc.) really is. I wanted to share my experience as a woman with a disability when I lost weight because it was a profound example of how weight-loss becomes often mandatory for basic life-sustaining needs. This story, losing weight to make life easier for the people around us, came up again and again in my research, and I hope that by writing about this, people become aware that their ‘preferences’ for skinny, able-bodied bodies has a very damaging effect on all those who can never fit that ideal.”

This piece first appeared on the National Eating Disorder Information Centre website and is reprinted here by permission.

Filed under Kaley Roosen disability body positivity the body is not an apology girls women eating disorders weight loss

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Slow Walkers See More

by Heather Watkins, Guest Writer

image

Photograph by Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg

[Image description: The photograph shows a light blue Morning Glory that is white in the center and surrounded by sun-dappled leaves.]

As a woman born with a disability that remained “hidden” until about 8 years ago – when I began using my cane – I’ve had quite the evolution. Disability permeates every aspect of my life. It has factored in my decision-making and helped chart the course of my life’s trajectory. Who would I be without this particular detail?

"Slow walkers see more" is my life’s motto.

I once internalized my disability as negative because I saw the limitations as defining and distanced myself from the comprehensive experience of disability. It didn’t happen overnight, but introspection yields insight, and I learned to see disability as natural. That realization has shaped my perspective and my work to inform public policy.

That doesn’t mean that I never get frustrated, but the frustration soon abates because I have an increased awareness of myself, a great support network of family and friends, and a whole slew of adaptations!

*shakes booty and bounces shoulders to ♪I know my creator didn’t make no mistakes on me!♪ (lyrics from the song,”Video” by India.Arie)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mq86e4Fhja0

The lyrics to “Video” can be found here: http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/indiaarie/video.html.

Heather Watkins is a graduate of Emerson College with a B.S. in Mass Communications. Born with Muscular Dystrophy, Heather is a cane user and a mother who loves reading, daydreaming, and chocolate. She is the co-founder of the “Divas with Disabilities Project,” a supportive sisterhood network representing women of color with disabilities, and she serves as the Vice Chair of the Boston Disability Advisory Commission. Her publishing experience includes articles in MDA’s July 2007 Quest magazine, the Mass Rehab Commission’s Fall 2012 Consumer Voice newsletter, and the sites OurAbility.com, Artofliving.com, and Thankgodi.com. Heather’s short story, “Thank God I have Muscular Dystrophy,” was recently published as part of the Thank God I…Am an Empowered Woman ® book series.

When asked why she submitted this piece to The Body is Not an Apology, Heather wrote,In a moment of reflection, I realized my own evolution and exhaled. I wanted to share how I now proudly self-identify, knowing that it falls somewhere between a shout and a whisper. ‘Showing up unapologetically’ takes practice and, although I may not ever love steps, I curse them a lot less on this journey.”

Filed under Heather Watkins disability body positivity girls women the body is not an apology

220 notes

NSFW: Why Facebook Hates My Ass: Navigating Radical Self Love and Hypocrisy on Facebook

Written By Sonya Renee Taylor

Founder/CEO The Body is Not An Apology

This piece is an installment in the #WhenWeSayYES Campaign

[In this photo: Sonya Renee Taylor, an African American cis woman is leaning over. Only her backside, vulva (which is blurred out) and a portion of her thighs and belly can be seen against a white background. On her backside is a blue and white painted image of The Body is Not An Apology’s Facebook page. The word “censored” is written in red letters diagonally across the page.] (Uncensored image below)

The first time Facebook suspended my page was about a year after starting The Body is Not An Apology, a movement of radical self love and body empowerment when I posted a stunning image of Senegalese tribal women. What should have been a non-controversial celebration of the beauty of another culture was removed within an hour and I was slapped with a 3 day suspension for violating Facebook’s “Community Standards”. The second time Facebook suspended me, TBINAA shared a photo of a bald, topless woman. Across her torso, breasts and face was the quote, “The Church says: the body is a sin. Science says: the body is a machine. Advertising says: The body is a business. The Body says: I am a fiesta.” ~Eduardo Gaelven, The third suspension was the image below:

image

[In this photo: the image is a black and white photo of a pregnant body.  The person is on their knees leaning back which makes only the knees, upper things, pregnant belly and the mounds of their breasts visible]

“Oh, Facebook has an issue with breasts!” I thought after the third 3 day suspension.  That is until I found this page and until I was suspended for 14 days for posting a status about racism, only to have my white friend post the EXACT same status, be reported 3 times (just to test the theory) and still not be suspended.  To date, Facebook has removed 8 images from my page, suspended my account 4 times. and responded to my inquiries regarding my suspensions ZERO times.   Whether it was the artistic image of a pregnant woman’s belly, a photograph of a woman’s body as a butterfly, or a picture of an actual clam (even crustacea naturally resembling female genitalia have to go!), Facebook has continued to find ways to stifle and silence the work of radical self love.

I wasn’t trying to start a body empowerment movement. On February 9, 2011, I had given myself a personal challenge; share the selfie that had been hiding in my cellphone for 4 months. The issue was not that I thought the photo was bad. The problem was I felt incredibly beautiful. and was hiding this picture because I did not believe I had the right to feel beautiful. Beauty was supposed to be the domain of women with very different bodies than mine. Beauty was for thin, white, straight,able bodied women with smooth legs and long blonde hair. Beauty was for blue eyes and photo shopped skin. Not me. Despite my beliefs about my beauty, something in my gut was wrestling with the word, challenging it, stretching it to fit a new body.

In workshops from Germany to Louisiana, I tell people, “You have never seen a 3 year old complaining about his thighs, whining about the squishiness of her belly.” This is because three year olds know we were born as radical self love. Of course, we’re beautiful! The quiet voice that loved the photo was radical self love. Any noise telling me otherwise was the inheritance of childhood trauma and bullies. It was a shame that had been sold to me and capitalized on by advertisers, reinforced by churches, and legitimized by bigotry. The idea that I should not feel beautiful in my large, black, bisexual body was not a thought I conceived on my own. It was implanted in my head like some rancid seed and had grown into a vicious screaming forest. Somehow, through the barbs of indoctrinated self loathing, the words,“You deserve to be beautiful, Sonya.” pushed through, thin and persistent enough to nudge me into one infant act of fear facing action. I posted the damn photo.  

[In this photo: an African American woman with dark skin is standing in a mirror taking a selfie. She has one hand on her hip and the other is outstretched holding a pink phone. She has a large curly dark afro and is wearing a black corset and black panties. There is a a doorway in the background with a painting and a dark brown table.]

Once I posted my selfie, I asked friends on Facebook to share photos, visual examples of their own decisions to be beautiful rather than waiting to have it conferred upon them like some royal title. People around the country posted images of their empowered, imperfect and incredibly beautiful bodies! They posted thin bodies and fat bodies. They posted gay, lesbian, inter-sex and transgender bodies. They posted bodies with Cerebral Palsy and Bipolar Disorder. They posted Black bodies, Latina Bodies, Indigenous and Asian bodies. They even posted thin, blonde, able-bodied White women with smooth legs! I woke up to a world where we were all allowed to love and celebrate our bodies exactly as they were! Three years and over 37,000 Facebook “likes” from 45 countries later, TBINAA has been working to remind us that we came to the planet as radical self love and we don’t need permission to value ourselves. Gorgeous projects like Denise Jolly’s Be Beautiful project were birthed from this community. Much of that work has been done on Facebook, a place that has allowed us global connection while simultaneously hindering our progress or just plain shutting us down. Facebook is a company, not a location for radical self love. Today, Facebook’s constantly changing algorithms show you content based on what they like you to see (which mysteriously correlates with who buys ads and not who has “liked” your page already). Small non-profits have seen their reach drop from tens of thousands of people to two or three hundred per post, strong arming them into paying if they want to continue to reach their constituents. All this while, removing images like this and this, and allowing racism, sexism, sexism, sexism, pro anorexia, body shaming, and all of the above to thrive with hundreds, thousands, in some case, millions of likes and no suspensions.

Unsurprised but enraged nonetheless, that the site founded to compare girls to barn yard animals might be unsupportive of radical self love, Facebook was monopolizing my thoughts when I walked into body positive pin up studio, Shameless Photography in San Francisco on a Friday to have my vulva painted and photographed . No, not a painting of my genitals. Yes,a painting on my genitals. The artist, Piyali Banjerie,had already done 60 genitalia paintings, including Gloria Steinem, Rosario Dawson, Eve Ensler, and others. Sophie Spinelle, Founder of Shameless Photography, had always supported TBINAA and reached out to me because Piyali was ready to do work that engaged queerness, otherness, trauma, and marginalized bodies in a complex and political way. Had I never immersed myself in the concept of radical self love, this meeting with Piyali would have never happened. But I did and I was ready to use this opportunity to make a radical statement about bodies, shaming, policing and reclaiming. It was time to challenge the use of our bodies for objectification and profit by others. When I thought about all of the images of celebration and love in our bodies that had been snatched off so many Facebook pages;

[Image is the opening photo uncensored]

nursing mothers, pregnant bodies, lgbt couples kissing, I wanted nothing more than to illustrate Facebook’s BS silencing tactics while at least artistically telling them where they could put their body policing.

Two things resonated for me the day I posed face down for 6 hours to have The Body is Not An Apology’s censored Facebook page painted across my backside. The first was a deeper understanding that every part of my body is beautiful and worthy of a radical self love, even my wide ass with ravines of stretched skin and the dark petals of my vulva. The second epiphany was that brilliant poet and activist, Audre Lorde was unquestionably right when she said, “For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.” The Body is Not An Apology used Facebook to get in the game but the end goal; a world where we are allowed to live unapologetically in our bodies regardless of age race, gender, sexuality, ability, size etc, cannot be won there. It requires a space that knows our beautiful bodies are not the problem. The belief that there is some state in which we do not deserve to be seen in our beauty is. Of course, I am counting down the seconds until my next suspension. In the meantime, I will be building a new home for radical self love,one where every BODY is welcome.

Please help us build the world’s most powerful online platform for radical self love, a digital SUPERCENTER of information,education and community building.  Fund The Body is Not An Apology’s #WhenWeSayYES Crowdfunding Campaign. Www.igg.me/at/whenwesayyes

Filed under The Body is Not an Apology radical self love Body empowerment facebook censorship body shaming breast feeding race african american women vaginas art nipples LGBT Rights LGBT love ableism sizeacceptance haes Trans Allyship mental health racism audre lorde poets oppression anti-oppression Aging

63 notes

Smile! The Pressure to be Happy

by Megan Ryland

If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.

If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.

If you’re happy and you know it, then your face will surely show it

If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.

Sometimes it seems like Happiness (with a capital H) is not just desirable—it’s enforced.  The attitude sometimes seems to say, “If you’re sad, they have drugs for that now.” The power of positive thinking is supposed to solve your problems, whether it’s cancer or bad test scores or unemployment. We are expected to be happy, perhaps because most of North America is so much better off than they were historically (although that might not be saying much), or perhaps because we’re expected to be able to buy our way out of problems now. Regardless, the expectation doesn’t make it true. What does the “happiness imperative” mean for the average person muddling through? What about the approximately 1/10 Americans who report experiencing clinical depression?

If you’re happy and you know it, stomp your feet

If you’re happy and you know it, stomp your feet

If you’re happy and you know it, then your face will surely show it

If you’re happy and you know it, stomp your feet.

When being unhappy feels like a failure already, being diagnosed with depression may feel like an additional blow. It seems increasingly common to believe that the point of life is to be/become happy—isn’t that the definition of a happy ending?—but if the point of living is just to be happy and you can’t be, what’s the point? The over-valuing of Happiness undervalues lives lived ‘imperfectly’ in any way, downplaying the experience of minds, bodies and environments that don’t lend themselves to easy access to the kind of Happiness we’re used taught to recognize. I’m talking about the Happiness that looks like something we might see on the big screen: a heterosexual, cisgender, neurotypical middle class family, likely with two kids and a dog, definitely no obvious barriers to fulfillment or self-actualization, and unfamiliar with trauma or violence. I wonder if anyone truly lives that version of the happy ending outside of the television. In reality, most people live with a mishmash of happy, sad, angry… all over the place.

If you’re happy and you know it, shout “Hurray!”

If you’re happy and you know it, shout “Hurray!”

If you’re happy and you know it, then your face will surely show it

If you’re happy and you know it, shout “Hurray!”

In a society where you can confess your life story on social media at the drop of a hat, there is a lot of emotional management going on; we have to regulate how we perform our emotions in a lot of spaces both on and offline. This is actually a lot of effort. In reality, no one’s life is as glossy and rainbow-filled as it might first appear by looking at their LinkedIn profile or Facebook page, but there is significant pressure to seem Happy. In fact the constant performance of happiness might make us less happy.

If you’re sad and you know it, cry boo hoo.

If you’re sad and you know it, cry boo hoo.

If you’re sad and you know it and you really wanna show it,

If you’re sad and you know it, cry boo hoo.

The capacity to be sad in public, to be unhappy, feels like it is rapidly shrinking. You can’t just have a bad day; you must be cheered up, or you must be just whining if you refuse cheering. Sometimes, sad is just how you feel though, and that’s okay. Delirious happiness just isn’t a constant state, no matter how lucky you are. So whether it’s men on the street demanding that you “Smile!” or people expecting cancer patients to always stay positive, see the lie behind the ridiculous pressure to be happy at all times. You’ll smile when you want to, but being happy should be an emotion to experience, not a performance to put on. Radical rejection of Happiness? Sometimes, a frown is what unapologetic self-love looks like.

Filed under the body is not an apology happiness imperative emotions pressure to be happy emotional management confession culture happiness depression

23 notes

Clenched Fists: Stoicism, Masculinity and Unapologetic Emotions

by Megan Ryland

3 AM by by Carlos Andrés Gómez and Adam Falkner

(Transcript available under the Read More. Video contains explicit language and slurs.)

The equation of emotions = weakness fails everyone, but the impact on the lives of men is often expressed in violence. I’m no expert on masculinity, but documentaries like Tough Guise and the upcoming The Mask I Live In help to try to explain the negative, often bloody, impacts of how Western masculinity makes an enemy of emotion, and anything coded as feminine.

In the poem “3 AM” above, Carlos Andrés Gómez and Adam Falkner delve into the way that expression of emotions can leave them feeling dangerously vulnerable. Framing the poem with the reunion of two childhood friends, Carlos beautifully articulates the problem of wanting to connect with his friend while also keeping up the walls required by a masculine performance. At the same time, he intertwines this story with a struggle to express himself and the constant violence men around him threatened and were threatened by. The denial of emotions and intimate connection remains throughout, only highlighted by slurs, drive-bys and threats. The ending breaks my heart as it encapsulates the moment of wanting to connect, but gendered norms getting in the way.

Stoicism is demanded of men who are taught not to cry, not to be affectionate, not to emote; only anger is allowed. When we demonize emotion, we are denying a shared part of humanity. At the same time, this phenomenon also tends to demonize those who are seen as emotional: women and gay men. It’s no accident that the slurs heard in the poem are aimed at these groups. The fear of emotive men is part of society’s homophobia and misogyny, and it puts gay men and women at risk.

Unapologetically embracing emotion can be a tough goal when you have been raised to pretend you don’t have any feelings, but giving people the space to be emotional and masculine humans is a start we can all make. Next time you catch someone (maybe yourself) picking on a someone for expressing emotions, think about whether you’re supporting positive masculinity. If we ditch the gender norms around feelings painting feminine as emotional and masculine as stoic, we can start to create a world where everyone can access emotion and connection.

To continue the conversation, you may want to check out Man Up by Carlos Andrés Gómez or Tough Guise with Jackson Katz.

Read more …

Filed under the body is not an apology masculinity positive masculinity carlos andres gomez adam faulkner slam poetry 3 AM emotions explicit language emotions are for everyone so is masculinity