Chronic illness is something that I talk about a lot in therapy. With diagnoses of fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, PCOS, Hashimoto’s Disease, a narcolepsy-like sleep disorder, and more, it’s not hard to see why.
From the age of about 12 I’ve been extremely frustrated with my body. And for many years now, I have loudly and vocally proclaimed my body to be “broken,” daring anyone to have the gall to disagree with me.
In one therapy session, my therapist finally did. She asked me why I use the word “broken.” Game on! Well, you asked for it, I thought as my thoroughly thought out list of angsty anecdotes jumped straight to my tongue.
I launched into the daily frustration I feel with a myriad of symptoms that fluctuate unpredictably, the pain I feel 24/7, fatigue that sometimes leaves me bedridden, and all the other fun-filled things that come along with chronic illness. I talked about the things I miss out on, the things I may never be able to do, the toll it takes on my relationships, and the mental health burdens I have as a result.
As I described it, I all but dared her to contradict me… and she did. “Over the next few weeks, I want you to think about the idea of your body being compromised rather than broken.” She asked me to come back next session with my thoughts on the process and left me a lot of freedom in how I approached the task.
I must have looked at her like I do when people suggest that yoga can singlehandedly cure all of my chronic health issues, but I trust her, so I agreed to at least try. I decided to go about my usual routine and wait for frustration with my body to inevitably surface in my mind.
Over the next few weeks I challenged myself to reframe my negative thoughts about my body being broken to my body being “compromised.” To be perfectly honest, I didn’t really expect much out of the exercise, but I was surprised to have a powerful epiphany. The shift from “My body is broken” to “My body is compromised” is incredible and not one that I had anticipated.
“Broken” says that my body is to blame. “Compromised” acknowledges that my body is fighting along with me.
My body is functioning. It might not function in the way that I want. But I am alive. My body often doesn’t have the energy it needs to do what I want it to… but every day it does what it can for me, even if that’s sleep all day. Every second of every day it is keeping me alive, running bodily systems I know little about because I hated biology class. (oops) It endured 18 years of disordered eating and still kept going.
My body is doing its best.
The longer I practiced correcting my mental self-talk, the more I realized how ableist “broken” is and it made me want to tackle and reshape my thinking even more.
I started shifting my frustrations toward the illnesses themselves, and began to think of my body as a vessel that is just trying its best to continue despite daily challenges. The obstacles I face on a daily basis…are things my body is also enduring. Despite the false pain signals it has to process 24/7, despite the fatigue it battles through with me, despite the probably-ever-present warning alarms it must get tired of hearing all day… it functions as best as it can.
It’s amazing how such a subtle difference can make me feel less trapped, more hopeful, and more at peace. Instead of feeling bound to a broken machine, I feel more like I am going into battle with an old, tired, but badass friend.