This is a plea to myself as much as it is to others. This is an appeal to each of us, to pause and think before we judge others, especially on appearance.
I know what you think when you see me, whether for the first time or as a longer acquaintance. I can read it in your eyes. I see the belief that I look the way I do because I do not care about myself, I am gluttonous and lazy. I know that look which betrays pity and blame combined. Which cuts into my soul.
I know that I have not worn my years kindly. But I do not think you know just how much I struggle with that, every time I look in a mirror and each time I see myself reflected in the eyes of judging strangers.
I do not want to have to tell in advance, that I know how it seems. As if I live a life of sloth. But I yearn to challenge that judgement, and preface a conversation by saying just how hard I push against the forces which shape me.
I will give you an example. I move increasingly awkwardly. Femara is a drug which decreases the probability of my cancer recurring or progressing. For which I am thankful. How can I not be? Despite the accumulating side effects which conspire to make my mobility increasingly constrained and painful. I push myself to get up and move about, despite the pain because I know it helps a little and that inactivity is an enemy. Despite that pain when I rise to my feet and the jarring pain in the first steps, which gradually reduces to an ache and awkwardness. But I can tell by your looks, that you think my bulkiness is causing this lumbering gait.
I hear comments on my weight and suggestions that I should walk a little. I know that the intent is not unkind, but still I fight back tears. I hate my defensive tone when I try to explain gently that I have cycled five kilometres that very morning, as I do most mornings. That I have swum half a mile, as I do most mornings. That I am probably fitter than I have ever been since my teenage years. The irony slaps me, knocking me sideways. I know you don’t really believe me. I know that because, if you see me by chance one morning on my bicycle or swimming, your expression is of surprise.
I can no long walk freely. My toes have retained that numbness of peripheral neuropathy from chemotherapy. I am frightened of falling. I stumble even in the house and earlier this year had one bad fall. Those numb toes caught on a paving stone, slightly upturned and I fell heavily on both knees. Those tender, already painful knees. My confidence has been dashed, and my love of walking is a memory as I pick tentative, cautious and painful steps.
Dear people, I had no idea that there were so many long term effects from treatment which has probably saved, and at the very least significantly prolonged my life. When I learned that my thyroid function had been annihilated by chemotherapy my initial reaction was one of vindication. Here is a major reason why I struggle with my weight despite being more active and physically fit than I have ever been. It is not sloth or gluttony. Zero thyroid function is a very clear medical reason behind stubborn extra pounds. Every morning before my day begins, even before I put on my swimwear as the sky slowly lightens, I have to take synthetic thyroid. Every day I take this, and will for the rest of my life. Any hope that this artificial medication would re-shape me was however dashed as the months after this bonus diagnosis and new medication slipped by without any sign of weight loss. An hour of exercise in the morning maintains a fairly steady or even mildly gaining weight. Any reduction in activity results in rapid weight gain. Which does not reduce no matter how active I am. This is sickening and frustrating.
It is human to judge and to make assumptions. We are wrapped in our social and cultural baggage which nurtures beliefs deep within us. It is also human to smart when we are on the receiving end of those suppositions.I know that I should accept the way I look. Even my doctor has told me I am doing everything right and that I should try not to be so hard on myself. That is one part of the question. The other part is how not to take it so much to heart when others are unintentionally hard on me.
And that is the one I can’t crack. I can rationalise the comments and looks, and can attempt to reassure myself that I am not who I appear to be. But I can’t stop it hurting. I can’t prevent involuntary sickening twist-in-the-gut reaction when yet another person remarks. That lingering sense of sorrow and shame which descends on my spirit. The futility of defending myself, knowing that it just does not appear credible, and minds are already made up.
Dear people, you do not know how much I hesitated to write this. How bare my soul feels putting these words on the page. How exposed and vulnerable this makes me feel. How sensitive and susceptible to more judgement as a result of disclosing my innermost anxieties and insecurities. How uncomfortable about such a self- indulgent outpouring.
We do not know what innermost struggles there are within each individual, hidden by smiles and a seeming lightness of the spirit. Painting a smile and crafting gentle words while the soul writhes in pain takes enormous effort.
To paraphrase a well known saying – let us aim to be kind to others , for we cannot know what private turmoil there is within each one of us.