“We are the sum of all we have done added to the sum of all that has been done to us.”Robin Hobb
This is a quote from one of my favourite authors Robin Hobb in her book ‘The Golden Fool’. This quote has stayed with me for over a decade and I have never been able to articulate why it resonated with me so much until rather recently.
From an early age I was bullied. For a long time that was the end of the sentence.
Who hasn’t been bullied? It was in the past, children are monsters and a whole bunch of other clichés that I used to protect myself, to diminish years of abuse.
I suffered; still suffer from low self-worth, self-hatred, and low self-esteem. It has taken a lot of time, a lot of help, a lot of tears, and a lot of energy to get to a point where my mental illnesses don’t define me and I say, with confidence because that is what I feel, that I have begun to heal.
What I have come to realize is that I have become kind and compassionate to my mind but I don’t apply that to my body. I view my body as being broken, dear god is it broken! It is amazing I can get up in the morning! And that is largely due to other people’s responses to it. The careless words massage therapists, physiotherapists, even other Pilates teachers have thrown at me which I then internalised.
During my Biomechanics Coaching qualification we discussed how language can affect clients and can influence how they feel at the end of a session or how they perceive their body.
I had to train myself to be aware of the language I used, the tone I used, and not to randomly go ‘Oooo, now that is interesting!’ whilst palpating a muscle. I do all this and never once thought to apply it to how I talked about my own body.
I often have neck and shoulder pain that becomes a constant dull ache punctuated by sharp pain if I move wrong and eventually results in migraine like symptoms. I have seen pretty much every type of clinician about this and every time they look at my body, told me what was wrong with it (in that confident tone), then shooed me away. If it was a programme of treatment they would eventually grow bored of me because my body wasn’t responding the way they wanted it to and would shoo me away with a little bit more vigour.
It made me think that my body was broken. That I would just be in pain because my body didn’t work right which is a pretty shit feeling to have about yourself.
After each visit I would have a new thing wrong with me to add to my list because that was what I did, I accumulated a list and every time I saw a new clinician I reeled off this list without thought;
I’m not hypermobile
I have dura-tension
I have forward head position
I sublux my shoulders
I have an anterior pelvic tilt
I have a rotation in my pelvis
I have pelvic floor dysfunction
My QL is tight
My QL is weak
My spine is wonky
I don’t breathe properly
I have bad posture
My glute muscles are too strong and on and on and on
Never once in this litany of brokenness do I mention I’m in pain.
I took these words and phrases told to me by these professionals and I let them worm their way into my brain. They became the most important thing because a professional told me so.
I carry that with me every day. I don’t approach my body with compassion or kindness. I don’t accept that my body can change; it is this static broken thing that is so broken other people get bored of trying to help me. It’s a lost cause! Surely?
None of this was diagnosed. It was all based on postural assessments, or functional movement screens, and were musculoskeletal issues rather than something medical and because there wasn’t an underlying health concern they could have been addressed by soft tissue work, exercise, muscle releases, the things you go to physiotherapists, massage therapists, and Pilates teachers for.
The body is an interconnected whole that can be influenced by muscular imbalances, injuries and muscle compensations, or whether you sat weirdly whilst binge watching Netflix. It is not helpful to reduce it down into sections as if they function independently.
My list of brokenness is meaningless.
I accepted it as truth rather than viewing it as a snapshot of what my body was like on that day, at the time.
I also accepted that there was nothing I could do about it, it became almost an introduction – “Hi, my names Jo and I have an anterior pelvic tilt!”
I’m learning to be kind to my body and not to view it as something beyond repair. It will take time, and it will take help, and it will take tears, and it will take energy, and I will be happier for it.
Words affect us deeply and people forget that sometimes. If someone, clinician or fitness teacher or random person on the street, makes you feel like your body is broken then that is their problem and not yours.
Be kind and compassionate to your body.