The Breast Part

Fair warning: This is a post about my boobs.  If you are a relative or coworker or anyone who doesn’t want to hear me talk about this most wonderful body part, you have been warned.

One of the single biggest influences on my body image, whether positive or negative, is my breasts.

It might sound silly, but it is very, very true.  I don’t know if all women are especially conscious of their breasts, but I always have been.  For the longest time, they were too small (or so I thought).  Granted, I was about 14 years old when I thought this, but still, I was hyper-aware.  It is sort of awkward, conceptually, when you think about it: women have these weird mound-like protrusions from their chest.  Obviously, they serve a very important purpose (i.e., breastfeeding). But for the vast majority of our lives, we aren’t breastfeeding.  During these non-nursing times, breasts become something sort of different: sexual objects.  But I think that a lot of the way we see our breasts isn’t determined by men or sex, but by other women.

When I started high school, I remember thinking that I must be the flattest-chested girl in the entire school.  This wasn’t true at all, but my image of breasts did not fit with how I thought they should be.  This says a lot about how girls are primed, even from a young age — I was thirteen years old.  Over high school, my breasts grew at what was probably a painfully normal rate.  I felt happy with their size when I started college at 17.  I was maybe a small C cup at that point.  Since then, they’ve grown about two more sizes.  This is not what I wanted to happen, at all.  I feel like women are constantly made to understand that their bodies can be perfectly controlled, in terms of size and shape.  Breasts are a perfect example of why this is not true.

In the last four years, I have been on and off various hormones.  About two years ago, I finally settled on a birth control pill that worked well (I was only using it to control my period, headaches, acne, etc.).  After having pulmonary emboli, however, hormones are out of my life permanently.  At first I thought this would be nice and cleansing; more authentic to how my body should be.  But after a solid six months hormone-free, I have to say that I am hating it.  I have terrible acne for half the month, awful cramps and headaches, and my moods are not only terrible but unpredictable.  I cannot believe that women lived like this for thousands of years before the invention of the pill.

Whatever.  My point is that the lack of birth control hormones in my system has had another unpleasant side effect: my boobs have been growing like rabid animals.  Ugh.

It’s frustrating to feel like I reached a point where I was satisfied with my breast size and now they’re growing beyond my control.  I despise not being in control.  But that’s just the thing: I have been made to believe, all my life, that my body can be shaped and contorted and dominated like a bonsai tree. This is not the case, and it never will be; there are a million factors that play a role in determining the size and shape of all our various body parts.

So why do I let my boobs affect my self-esteem so much?  I’m constantly aware of their size; I feel like they’re awkward and too big all the time.  My younger high school self thought they were too small, making me somehow un-womanly.   There are, of course, some practical reasons for my current self-consciousness about them: plain and simple, they get in the way.  It would be so much easier to run with smaller boobs.  There are certain yoga poses where I feel like I’m being strangled by a small human sitting on my chest, until I realize that it’s really just my own breasts.

Other times, I feel like I’m being stared at by men.  I don’t think I’m imagining it.  It doesn’t matter where I am or what I’m doing; men ogle.  And I am so tired of it.  I am much more than whatever sexuality my breasts represent.  I think I have a nice face, too.  Is it somehow less important?

It’s a funny conundrum: my breasts are sometimes wonderful, sexual objects and are other times obnoxious, uncomfortable objects.  Depending on which side of this equation they fall on on any given day, my self-esteem is either high or low.  By no means are breasts the only determinant of my (or any other woman’s) self-esteem.  But they are a pretty big factor.  Sometimes I wish they would just go away entirely.

I am going to try to be nicer to my breasts.  After all, they do have an important purpose.  Many women would probably be thrilled to have my boobs.  I guess we want what we can’t have.  And short of a breast reduction, which I don’t think I would really want anyway, my boobs are not going to be changing much.  L (my therapist) is always trying to get me to accept things the way they are, at least in moments like this.  I think that my self-consciousness about my breasts is a moment where I need to just accept myself: that means accepting the good and the bad.  Sometimes it’s nice to get a little attention.  Other times it’s downright obnoxious.  Sometimes they make me feel very womanly.  Other times they feel big and horrible.  Overall, they are a wonderful, albeit confusing, body part over which I don’t really have control.

So be it.

Your feelings on your boobs?  How do they affect your self-esteem?

Therapy Thursday

Today’s Happy Note: Owls.  Something about fall just makes me think of owls.  I doubt there are any in NYC.  They are such beautiful, intriguing creatures.  I wish, right now, that I could be in a cool, wet forest, camping out, watching owls fly overhead.  That would be nice.

Sometimes I love New York and sometimes I desperately want to leave.  It’s a strange mecca, really.  I have fallen in love with the city over and over and over again and I am not sure I will ever be able to leave — the sounds and lights and people and neighborhoods.  The buildings.  The way the architecture seems to merge with the humans flawlessly.  But there is a small part of me that is a small-town girl.  Or even a rural girl.  I love meadows, streams, forests, mountains; scrambling over rocks in National Parks, kayaking down long windy rivers, climbing big old willow trees in a huge backyard, rambling endlessly on dirt roads surrounded by corn fields.  And owls, of course! I like all that.  I just want to have that and New York.  And it scares me, because I don’t think that it’s possible.

Are you a country girl?  City girl?  Wilderness girl?  Suburban girl? Or boy.  I might have some male readers, I suppose.

For the first time in a long time today I did nothing, really, exercise-wise.  And it felt damn good. I walked around campus all day, of course, and did about 10 minutes of yoga to stretch out a bit.  I have been really exhausted lately. This tends to happen when I am stressed/making a life transition.  I think it may also be tied to whatever is happening with my body, hormonally or otherwise.  Sick Caronae=Tired Caronae.

I don’t think I was being lazy by not running or working out today.  I genuinely listened to my body, which is harder to do than it sounds.  I love running, but I also think that it tends to make me a little bit out of touch with my body.  I can never figure out my hunger cues when I am running a lot.  So no run today.  I am still running five days a week, with some yoga and strength training thrown in there.  I think that is perfectly acceptable for now. 🙂  NYC Marathon, here I come!

I have a confession: I have a vision of myself breaking up with running, one day.  Not necessarily soon, but it is something I have known will happen for a while now.  Maybe in a few years.  After a few more marathons and ultras. Maybe even sooner than that, or maybe later.  Maybe after I have babies.  Maybe I’ll stop for several years and then come back to it.  I have amazing natural endurance — in fact, I would argue that that is my only real physical talent — but I also have arthritis, sciatica, weak joints, a problem in my sacrum, and frequent generalized muscular/skeletal/nerve pain.  Right now running is working for me, but barely. I love when Heather talks about this because I relate so well.

Anyways.  Just some rambling.

Therapy Thursday

First: do you know how long I have waited to have my appointment with L be on Thursdays just so that I could write “Therapy Thursday”?  I love alliteration.  I am such a geek.

Second: This post is a little bit emotional, a little bit heavy and difficult and painful.  I won’t be afraid if you don’t want to read it.  Sometimes when I am sad, reading about someone else’s sadness only makes it worse — if you’re like that, I highly recommend skipping. 🙂

Last night’s blog post was in the back of my mind for the whole session.  I didn’t talk explicitly about it, but talked about those issues — weight, body image, health, self-hatred, self-esteem, the essence of me. It is sort of strange, but I feel like the whole last year with L (it’s officially been a year, this week) has been leading up to this point, where I feel comfortable sharing the deepest, darkest secrets I have about myself, all of which have to do with the body.  I do have other deep, dark secrets, but I think I have mostly already shared those things with her.  The body is the hardest thing, because it is entirely real.  It is not a ghost or a memory or a scar.  It is not something that happened to me when I was six or an ephemeral feeling.  It is not something that goes unspoken, like love or growth or opening myself up.  It sits right in front of me.  It is me.  Always.

It’s strange, I suppose, because it (the body — my body) is so obvious and cerebral, but also so subtle and hidden and emotional.  There are some moments when I feel like my relationship with my own body is incredibly straightforward — like there are signs plastered across my stomach or words scrawled on my arms.  But most times, I don’t even understand the relationship.  I get confused — I eat when I am not hungry or don’t eat when I am hungry. I tell myself I am lovely and I have dark, reflective, mysterious eyes.  I tell myself that my stomach and hips and thighs are so big that I should take a carving knife to them.  I have not tried this, but it has been a horrible fantasy of mine for many years.

Tonight, for example.  I almost didn’t eat dinner.  I wanted a piece of pizza or a half of a giant burrito, with chicken.  But I didn’t have any of those things.  I had a salad, which ended up being really good, but it wasn’t what I wanted.   It was the lower calorie version of what I wanted.  I almost didn’t eat at all. I did not listen. Or I did listen, but it was to the mean part of me that has “you are fat and horrible and unworthy” on an endless repeat cycle in my head.

I can’t outline exactly how long I have had this struggle.  Let’s say six years.  Six years into this and I still hate myself so much?  I still struggle to eat a meal sometimes.  Or to stop eating sometimes.  Obviously, the intensity of these feelings has been triggered by recent events.  I have never handled stresses well — I feel things so deeply that it hurts every part of my being.  When something is upsetting, every tiny crack in my body will be upset.

Today, with L, was about all of this.  I am not really sure how to characterize her responses, both verbal and non-verbal.  I can definitely say that they were comforting.  She was comforting.  At one point, I felt like she was looking at me like a mother — that shook me, more than anything else.  It made me realize just how much she cares about me, and how much I care about her.  Strange things happen in a psychotherapy relationship.  I wish I could say that I wasn’t too attached, that it was completely clinical.  But that is not the case — I’m long past that point, and there is no turning back, for good or for bad.  She continually reminds me that there is something wonderful and engaging and warm about me that has nothing to do with my body. I just don’t know what that is exactly, yet.

L and I agreed that we don’t know where the hatred comes from, and that I feel better on days when it is not there.  I can’t tell you how many windows and mirrors and bottles I find my reflection in.  More than should be allowed. Sometimes I wish the world could be devoid of these things.  I want to scream at the makers of bus shelters, “don’t you know there are girls walking by who want more than anything not to see themselves; don’t you know that this one moment — this reflection in the glass — is the most horrible moment of their lives, and it happens a thousand times a day; don’t you know?”

Hurt is human.  L reminds me of this, a lot.  It makes me feel less alien.  We all have our demons.  I happen to have more than many people, and  I also think I feel them more.  But everyone has them.  There are so many things we don’t know about the people we walk by on the street, or even the people we work with or have class with.

The agony surrounding my body and my physical self is not helpful: the hours every day I spend hating myself actually do not make me happier. In fact, they suck away my time and my energy.  What a revelation!  L was telling me how, when I finally accept myself exactly as I am, the agony will go away.  And I know she is right.  I think that maybe it might be in the process of going away — this process started a year and a half ago, in February of 2009, when I left school (don’t worry, I came back).  It’s painful.  It’s not like I can just say “okay agony and hatred — be gone, I’m done with you!”  It helps to say that, sometimes (like in yesterday’s post), but it doesn’t necessarily make it true.  I guess I don’t understand why the process can’t be faster.

Sometimes when I write about therapy, afterwards, it sounds like L wasn’t there or involved at all.  That is not the case, ever.  She is very involved — she probably talks at least 30% of the time, which I like.  It’s such a wonderful combination of helping me see things differently, listening, and sharing her own experiences. Sometimes I can’t remember what it is that she said.  Usually I just know that it made sense and made me feel better.  I guess that my own narrative kind of takes up most of the space in my head, which is okay, as long as I’m being honest with myself.  There are, of course, stories that we tell ourselves, which are not always accurate reflections of reality.

For example, I tell myself that I am basically unlovable.  But I know this not to be true.  My friends and family love me, I can feel it and hear it and sense it.  And on another level, romantically, USB is attracted to me.  He wants to be with me. For someone who hardly wants to be with herself most of the time, this is a large does of cognitive dissonance. I like USB so much that it hurts, and I think he likes me back similarly.  So I can’t be completely unlovable, completely horrible.  USB is making me so happy that I cry about it, sometimes.  Slow, big, quiet tears.

I think things have been a bit heavy on the blog lately.  With reason, of course, seeing as this is me and this is how I am feeling — I began the blog on the premise of honesty regarding my mental/emotional and physical health.  I try to keep things real in both areas.  But with that said, I also don’t mean to overwhelm you with all these darker things at once.

I promise a lighter, cheerier post tomorrow!  Involving delicious foods. 🙂

Thanks for staying with me here; this is simultaneously a very exciting and happy and scary and dark moment in my life.

Medical Stuff, Part II, Or “A Slightly Happier Post”

Today’s Happy Note: Perfect fall temperatures!  I’m in love.  The air is warm but also crisp, snappy but gentle.

Marathon Training: We had our first actual “class” of yoga today (I am taking Iyengar Yoga as a P.E. class).  We did not do much at all — it is very, very basic.  We spent the whole hour practicing standing with our feet spread apart and then doing Warrior II, Triangle, and Extended Side Angle.  We finished with some easy bridges.  I wouldn’t call it a workout, but it was a decent stretch that got my hips opening up.  I did about 15 more minutes of stretching and abs afterwards, followed by an easy four mile run.

I didn’t feel awful on the run, but my left hip and hamstring were hurting.  Again.  I really don’t know what to do since it is so inconsistent.  I think that stretching it out a lot helps a bit.  I am praying that it is not present tomorrow for my hill run — running up hills with a hip/hamstring issue is especially hard.  I was supposed to do 6×100 strides at the end of today’s run but I knew that wasn’t going to happen.  I made a lame attempt at doing two of them before realizing that my body just was not having any sort of speediness.  It was probably the slowest run I have done in a long time; maybe 12-ish minute miles?  The funny thing about this is that I didn’t judge myself for it.  I just acknowledged that I was tired, my body/mind were a little off-kilter, and I was slowly but steadily ambling along.  Just like that, I didn’t care.  I’m proud of myself for that!

In other running-related news: I am ravenous. I am trying really hard to photograph everything because it is VERY useful for me to mentally keep track.  I did well today minus several handfuls (about two servings) of TJs cat cookies, aka animal crackers for grown-ups.

I made an awesome fall feast for dinner!

We have half of a steamed delicata squash smothered in cinnamon, a pile of baked tofu (coated in TJ’s peanut vinaigrette, maple syrup, and ginger) and roasted carrots and okra (coated in EVOO, salt, and pepper).  This is pretty much fall seasonal eating perfection. It was a pretty tasty (and easy!) meal.  Yum.

Medical Stuff, Part II

So.  Yesterday I talked about science and medicine and my body and how the intersections thereof can be a little bit inexplicable.  Read that here. Thank you for all of your kind comments/emails!  It is heartening to know I am not the only person in the world who has these subtle-but-also-overwhelming problems.

Today I kind of want to look at the issue(s) from a psychological/mental health standpoint.

I have always equated being overweight with moral failure.  I never accepted the fact that, for some individuals, there might be other factors at play.  Until it happened to me.

Here I am, 10-15 pounds too heavy.  For me, losing a pound is an uphill battle.  Fought with medieval instruments.  While blindfolded.  And standing on my head.  Okay, you get the picture — it is harder than it should be.  Once my body acquires a pound, that pound is not going to leave without a serious fight. Usually, I just end up psychically wounded and the pound(s) stay(s).

I am so tremendously tired of this.  But here’s the thing: I accept that there are processes happening in my body right now that are beyond my control. Even if there were factors totally within my control (for example, if I were doing serious emotional eating — I’m not, but you get the point), it doesn’t matter: the point is that this emotional battle with my body, at this moment in time, needs to end.

I think that within a few months, possibly after I get things sorted out with endocrinology and gynecology, or after the marathon, my body just might settle back into its natural happy weight on its own (for me this happens to be between 145-155 pounds; I have a medium-sized frame and a fair amount of muscle).

The most important thing for me, in this moment, has nothing to do with science or medicine or numbers of pounds or calories.  It has to do with stopping the judgement and the self-hatred.  Being overweight (ever so slightly) is not a moral failure for me, or for anyone else.  I believe that different people actually have different sizes at which they are healthy.  For me, this size happens to be at the upper end of “normal.”  For some, this might be a bit above “normal.” L was telling me last week how the BMI scale isn’t necessarily considered perfectly accurate or all-encompasing anymore anyways.  I would venture to guess that I am more healthy than a woman who eats mostly processed foods and sits on the couch all day but is at a “normal” weight.  I run ultramarathons, for Christ’s sake.

Kate wrote a lovely post today that really resonated with me, about disordered eating and body-consciousness.  Unfortunately, for many women, these are all-consuming things.  That has certainly been the case for me.  I am not sure I understand why.  Do I think that I will be a more perfect woman if I weigh 145 pounds versus 165 pounds?  Will I become more caring, compassionate, creative, prolific, loving?  I would hazard to guess that the answer is an emphatic “no.”  I am Caronae, no matter what I weigh.  I have an essence beyond my body.  Kate said the following, in describing the hatred, the disordered eating, the obsession that happens to so many women in our society:

“If you don’t understand, it can’t be explained to you.”

So perfect.  So true.  It’s like a club — a club that, sadly, most women are members of.

That was so hard for me to say.  That there is something about me that has nothing to do with my body.  Think about all the things I could be accomplishing if all my physical concerns went away.  I’m going to say it again.

There is something about me, something uniquely Caronae-ish, that has nothing to do with my body, whatever my weight may be. I accept the chaos that is happening inside and outside of me right now.  I accept the stress, the confusing medication regimen, the grueling running schedule, my way of eating, my fucked-up homrones.  I accept all of that.  I accept it because I know that I am something more than that. I might not be exactly sure what this “essence of Caronae” is, but I know, in my heart that it exists.  That she exists.

Previous Older Entries