Is It Just Me? My Struggles With Poor Body Image

I am sure other people worry about body image. It’s normal to worry just a little bit, right? But I wonder if others worry as much as I do. Is it just me?

How I got these invisible scars

My body image issues have been with me for as far back as I can remember, lurking about in my subconscious somewhere. I had chronic acne on my chest, back, and neck when I was a kid. It was so bad that the doctors at the local hospital wanted to photograph me, so bad that some members of my family were physically repulsed by me. I had an older brother who teased me, sometimes mercilessly, about my weight, my lying (I lied a lot when I was young), and, of course, the size of my manhood.

I am not revealing these things because I want to demonize my family. They weren’t bad people. My brother was just a kid too, and it was back in the days when boys were expected to be tough. Both emotionally and physically. Sadly, these things leave invisible scars, don’t they?

Mourning my former self

It was only after being diagnosed with AS that I started to feel self-conscious again in a way that I hadn’t for quite some time. I quickly gained weight; my waist size rapidly expanded in less than a year. I noticed, when lying on my side in bed, that my stomach rested, like a big doughy pillow, on the mattress in front of me. I really didn’t like how that made me feel.

The problem, of course, was that I was eating just as much as I did when I was working as a carpenter, but I wasn’t burning the calories anymore. At first, I was so fed up, I didn’t much care. In fact, looking back, I think I ate to excess almost as an act of self-harm. A kind of f**k you to my AS, and a definite f**k you to me too. I was irrationally angry at myself for being diagnosed with AS as if I could have avoided it had I only done something about it.

In hindsight, that anger was nothing more than my brain coming to terms with what was happening to me. That awful feeling after diagnosis that the old me was dead, replaced by this new, unwanted, damaged version. I realize now what I was going through was just me mourning the departure of my previously, healthy, strong self.

My body changed with ankylosing spondylitis

As time went by, I started to lose the strength in my arms and my legs. Site work is like going to the gym for eight hours a day. You develop muscles, become strong, and have energy through the roof. I didn’t look too bad in my underwear either, especially as the acne scars were barely visible. Not exactly Arnold Schwarzenegger, but not too dusty either.

I had a few years before the AS when I would say my body confidence was pretty good. But, of course, seeing those parts of myself slowly fade away was hard to accept, and maybe sparked old childhood memories.

And then, shock! Horror! I got up one morning to find my backside had gone. Vanished overnight! One minute I had an ass, the next minute, nothing. There was no longer a bump separating my lower back from my upper legs. I hated that.

Next came the stoop and, along with it, the fusing of my neck. It was slow at first but ever more apparent to me. I know I am far more fortunate than some when it comes to having a stoop, but even so, I found it difficult to live with. And, of course, AS impacts how I move. How I navigate my world. There’s no ‘nipping’ here and there anymore. No fast fluid movement. It left me feeling clunky and uncoordinated.

Coming to terms with my body

The good news is that over time I have adapted to my new physical form, as we all must. I am comfortable with it now. I came to realize that bodies naturally change over time, even without the AS. My arms were always going to reduce in size. Same with the legs. Same with the stoop, and same with the vanishing butt (which, I reckon, I inherited from my dear old Dad). My brother and I get along just fine now. He’s still a pain in my non-existent butt, but that’s never going to change.

These days I keep a watchful eye on my weight, not so much out of vanity, but because I am conscious, as I age, that my heart and limbs will last longer if I stay as active as I can. But it is an ongoing challenge.

How did you feel about the changes your body took on after being diagnosed?

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