There has been an elephant in the room, and not one which sits quietly in the corner. It has been rampaging through the house causing destruction and damage in its wake. I wrote Skin Deep over many days and did not actually believe I would put it “out there” online but as I felt myself sinking deeper and flinching from those small incidents which are on the surface slight, with tears in my eyes I finally pressed the “bare my soul” button.
I do not really know what I expected from the post. Being honest, I had not thought ahead. The purpose of writing was to vent and pour out the distress in my heart. So I was astounded by the response to Skin Deep. As well as numerous comments on the post itself, I received personal emails and Facebook messages and a number of people here reached out with love and understanding. I had not anticipated the many thoughtful messages reassuring me that physical appearance is not the same as beauty. I have been emotionally overwhelmed and it has taken time to put my thoughts in order and prepare this reflection and learning.
As I read through and responded to the comments, replied to emails, spoke with friends who reached out and quietly reflected, the clearer a picture developed of a whole host of people struggling silently. So many live with constant debilitating side and after effects and swallow the assumptions that everything is behind us and rosy now. Many of us are silently absorbing assumptions of our appearance, while struggling with a variety of conditions which impact on how we look, so many of which are beyond our control. I had lifted the lid off some Pandora’s box.
I still feel fragile, emotionally and the wellbeing and appearance issues are unlikely to change. But I learned a great deal from writing the post, reading and reflecting on the responses and bringing together these thoughts into some key messages.
I am not alone
I am incredulous at the number of people struggling with these interconnected issues, in silence and isolation. We are dealing with a host of issues – side effects from many meds, after effects from current and previous treatments, disfiguring surgery, pain, destruction of functions including thyroid. We may look well but be living with debilitating conditions, or we may look unfit and unhealthy yet are following extremely healthy lifestyles as far as we can. In summary, as “cancer in my thirties” said in her comment
“many people fail to realize how horrible the side effects of our treatments can be — and how much they impact our lives each and every day”.
Even if I struggle with these, knowing I am not alone somehow helps emotionally and validates these feelings. However, another side is that very few of us expect or are prepared for such debilitating side and after effects. We should be grateful that we are alive – and of course we are, but that doesn’t mean that this is something that can be wrapped up and put easily in the past when we live it every day.
Far too many are silently living with this.
I did not intend to make people feel uncomfortable. My post did not point fingers at any individual but aimed to draw out the consistency of reaction. I particularly want to stress that I do not for a moment believe that there is unkind intent in many of the comments and looks I experience. My friend Becky wrote very powerfully of her experience and in particular placed it in the context here.
“Being called fat in SE Asia isn’t necessarily a negative thing. It’s quite acceptable here to talk about people’s size. ……………
In some countries, being told you’re big can be a compliment. I sense it’s not necessarily a compliment here, but rather an observation (perhaps without much judgment).“
It is so important to hold on to this, and try and remember it is more an observation. The challenge is that of course I come from a context where it is broadly offensive to comment on a person’s weight. And that is why it hurts. Purely and simply, I struggle terribly to be on the receiving end without it that stab of pain and shame.
It doesn’t matter how much I rationalise and understand – it still hurts.
I have found that not only writing and releasing these highly personal and innermost thoughts and feelings but then listening to the responses and reactions of others is helping me to process this. Chronic illness, mortality, cancer and the whole psychological and emotional and invisible side to diagnosis continue in my view to be underestimated even within ourselves. We are often caught up in our own pain and unable to see how enormously difficult for those around us themselves to deal with life-threatening diagnoses in their loved ones.
Indeed, I really did not have a clear purpose in my mind when I started on this journey of exposing my soul. I did not expect such a powerful reaction. I think that in the back of my mind, I was screaming silently that I wanted to be heard. To be understood. And not to be judged.
This path is and will continue to be painful. Yet for now, I can say that I do indeed feel heard. I feel far less alone. And I feel more understood. I hope that applies to us all.
The elephant is still in the room. I doubt if it will completely disappear. But it does seem to have quieted a little and become less obtrusive.