Body Wars

Sometimes when our bodies let us down, through illness or as a result of an accident, it can feel as if we are at war with ourselves. In a recent advert for a cold remedy this was clearly demonstrated as the ad depicted a man fighting back an advancing army, suggesting that his symptoms were attacking him with such force that he had to fight for his survival.

Ruby, a woman in her early fifties, knows what it’s like to be at war with her body. She has gone through a series of changes as women’s bodies do in that stage of life. She has been experiencing hot flushes, night sweats, mood swings and an increasing number of minor physical ailments, all of which leave her feeling powerless and hopeless. She feels anger and resentment towards her body, and a sense of being let down. As each new symptom emerges she becomes more irritable and frustrated. Well meaning friends and family console her with platitudes, “It will pass,” “It’s just the change,” “When you get out the other side, you won’t know yourself.”

While much of what is being said may be true, Ruby takes little comfort from it. As her sleep is disturbed for the fifth night in a row by profuse sweating she has to get up, and change both her nightwear and the bed-linen, disturbing her partner in the process. She curses her body and its changing patterns. The cursing brings her short term relief, but soon she sinks back into the powerless state of uncertainty that has become her constant companion. Sometimes this can go on for years, she’s told.

Ruby’s body is not her enemy. It just seems like that.

Sometimes, we can see our bodies as separate from ourselves, as objects in which we travel around the world, much as we might see a car. So, when they aren’t working as well as they might, we feel as we would feel if our car were broken down, frustrated, disappointed and let down. Only more so…we can’t trade our bodies for a newer model.

And yet our bodies are so much more than a vehicle. Although it can appear that the mind and body are separate, closer scrutiny shows that they are both part of a whole. Some scientists believe that the link is so close that each of our millions of cells carries the imprint of our thoughts and feelings. Think of how many functions our bodies carry out without our conscious input. We breathe, we sleep, our cells repair and replace, all of our internal organs do their work, our immune systems keep us safe. When we want to perform a physical action, such as lift a mug of coffee or walk to the shops, our bodies carry out our wishes for us, efficiently and without price. Often, we can take what our bodies do for granted.

There is a school of thought that our bodies are so sophisticated that physical pain and illness reflects some emotional disturbance within us, and is the body’s way of communicating that something is wrong, that our bodies are an outward reflection of our inner world. Certainly, how we feel about our bodies has an impact on our experience of illness and injury.

We can change our minds by changing our bodies, ask anyone who has lost a significant amount of weight, or who has undergone plastic surgery. We can also change our bodies by changing our minds. For example, our attitude to life can lead us to more healthy choices.

So next time you feel let down by your body, next time you experience pain or illness, or have an injury, ask yourself what your body is saying to you. Perhaps it’s saying it’s time to make changes in your life. Perhaps it’s pointing you towards some invisible inner wounds that might need to be healed. Perhaps you’re in need of a little care and attention, from others or from yourself.

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