Acceptance and Body Issues

“I want my body back.”

I’ve heard myself say this a number of times in the last few months. Sometimes in anguished frustration under my breath. Sometimes while sharing with family and friends. Sometimes in wonderment. Sometimes in prayer.

The statement can mean so many things. Given the Dove video that’s been circulating, the one about how we see ourselves vs. how someone else sees us, my declaration could easily be taken for an expression about my exterior self. You know, fat, wrinkles, outsized features.

But it’s not.

If being in my 50s has given me anything, it’s peace around that stuff. Literally every night when I lay my head on the pillow I express thanks for my body and its ability to function, to get me places, to bring me pleasure. I am what I am. I like to exercise my body, dress it well, pamper it.

So when I say I want my body back, it’s more a longing to understand why I have felt markedly slower and wearier in the last year. My obsession lies in freedom of movement and lifestyle, not the new line that’s appeared on my face.

About a year ago I had surgery for a meniscus tear on my left knee and this is partly about that, but really it’s more about a series of ripple effects around that. The surgeon wouldn’t do the surgery unless my high blood pressure came down, but up until the pre-op exam I didn’t know I had a problem with hypertension. No idea or inkling whatsoever. I took the prescribed meds to get me through the surgery, but shortly thereafter had troubling side effects, so my doctor prescribed another. I was convinced I didn’t really need them long-term, so acquiesced with the understanding he’d wean me off them later.

When I didn’t feel like the doctor heard me – and while in the midst of healing and diligent attention to my physical therapy — I changed general practitioners because I wanted one less inclined to pull out the prescription pad. The latest drug was making me feel sluggish and my legs would swell easily after exercise. I began thinking it would be better to live with the risks of high blood pressure.

I ordered a hot-selling book on the topic and it got lost in the mail or stolen. I took it as a sign not to read it. I stopped eating my beloved olives (salt!) and began ingesting more kale than any human needs. I already eat lots of salads, not much processed food and I’m mindful of whole grains and protein. I started taking vitamins. At the instruction of my new doctor I was taking my blood pressure every other day (at the CVS next to my gym) and recording it. That proved maddening – the fluctuations, the questioning of whether I should take it before or after workout or wait five minutes, bla, bla, bla.

By September the frequent swelling became too much and so my doctor heard me out again, looked at my ledger of BP reads from weeks of recording, and she prescribed a very small dose of a diuretic to replace the other meds. This came with the instruction to come in for a blood test soon afterward to check my electrolytes.

Well, I procrastinated a few weeks on that and the next thing I knew we had Super Storm Sandy. My doctor’s office and lab are located near the World Trade Center. With the PATH trains from Hoboken out of service for nearly two months, getting to Manhattan was a production. Bye, bye blood test. At least for a while. When we flipped the calendar to 2013, I was well into my new meds but still frustrated by stiffness in my legs and overall fatigue I didn’t have prior to all this beginning the year before.

On a particularly aggravating day I picked up the phone and made an appointment for a checkup. My intent was to tell, not ask, my doctor to wean me off all meds. The next available appointment was three weeks away. The day came last week and as I took the 10-minute ride into the city, strolled past the Freedom Tower and sat in an examining room waiting for my doctor, something shifted.

I thought about how maybe it wasn’t the best time to play with blood pressure meds when I was at a trying time in my freelance business. And maybe I was lucky to have found a not-so-invasive treatment for it. Because, truly, if it’s a concern that my blood pressure will go up at a challenging time in my life, doesn’t that actually mean I have high blood pressure?

Yikes. I had reached acceptance. By the time the doctor came in my purpose for being there had done a 180. I explained all of the above and she listened.

“Well, we have found the sweet spot,” she said. “And keep in mind I don’t like prescribing meds. I don’t do it lightly.”

I recalled that was one of the main reasons I had chosen her just months before. She ordered a blood test on the spot to check my electrolytes. The next day the lab emailed the results with her note. All good, except perhaps I was a bit dehydrated when I took the test?

Hmmmm. I Googled dehydration symptoms and among them I found “muscle weakness” and “fatigue.” Good God, is it that easy? I have not been drinking a lot of water, ironically because the pills I’m taking would have me in the bathroom much more frequently. Duh. Do I just need to drink more water? I went out and bought one of those plastic tumblers with a straw, clear with a green band. I dutifully fill it up and drink all day long.

We’ll see how it goes.

Through all of this, I have been ever aware of how the smallest to the greatest blips in our health can throw us off course or set us back. It has made me a better person, coach, and writer because I’m more inclined to actually hear what a person is saying with regards to how they feel and how it relates to their goals and their willingness to engage life on a given day.

But there’s more.

When the doctor’s assistant came in last week to set me up in the examining room, I got on the scale and I noticed her startled look. I met her eyes and said, “I don’t look like I weigh that, right?” She shook her head, clearly still stunned. “No, not at all.” I lifted the tunic I was wearing, pointed to my stomach and said, “I don’t pretend to have six-pack abs. I’m soft in the middle. But according to your chart I’m obese and that’s just absurd.”

She nodded, but then clearly still thinking about it, said, “Do you work out? Could it be muscle?” I laughed. “I typically work out four days a week, so yes, that’s possible.”

I could have never had that conversation in such a relaxed way in my 20s, 30s or even 40s. This is new. Bless the 50s.

My olives are back in moderation. Now if only I could get past my denial that pretty shoes may be a thing of the past. I love my pretty shoes.

One thing at a time.

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