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Reassessing the Container

I've always lived in my head instead of my body. I was the uncoordinated kid who was picked last for dodge ball and the girl who couldn't be bothered with makeup and trendy clothes (early in my college career, a well-intentioned, bow-headed blonde informed that I'd never get a bid from a sorority if I kept dressing like that). Faced with an uncooperative body, and a beautiful, youthful mother who always looked like a million bucks, I abandoned the field. For years I not-so-secretly believed in the false dichotomy that smart people weren't athletic and all athletes must be philistines, and congratulated myself for not being overly obsessed with my appearance.

"Me" was my thoughts and memories. My body was just the container, and, although I sometimes wished my stomach was flatter or that I was more physically fit (I even succumbed to a diet once), concern for my body felt like a vanity, something I should fight, not a goal to be worked towards. Logically, I knew that health was important, but it was all muddled up with fashion in my head -- there was no Mia Hamm when I was a kid, just Brooke Shields in her Calvin Klein's. Diet and exercise were tools to make you fit the anorexic super model mold, not ways to increase your health or strength. I was a relatively healthy, if somewhat sedentary person, whether I weighed 110 or 130 pounds, why waste a lot of time worrying about exercise and counting calories?

Pregnancy put the first cracks in my body/mind dichotomy. It's hard to believe that your body is something separate from your mind when your emotions and thoughts are thrown into such an upheaval by your hormones. Breastfeeding, which seems to be a particularly intense mix of the physical with the mental, made it even more difficult to ignore the connections between the body and the brain. My milk let down in a variety of weird situations, prompted by no more than the thought of babies or nursing, or a wave of any strong emotion. And when a baby latched onto my breast, I got stoned on the hormonal cocktail that flooded my system and encouraged me to relax and snuggle with my baby. Before I had kids, the thought of my body manipulating me like that would have seemed creepy; after the fact, it gave me a sense of being integrated and comfortable in my skin.

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Unfortunately, that sense of comfort didn't translate into physical endeavors. I still spent a great deal of my life sitting in front of various sorts of screens: computer monitors, televisions, movie screens, even the pseudo-screen of the front windshield as I ferried kids around to all our activities. I've gradually realized that you can be athletic and healthy without being vain, but it's been hard to implement this realization in my own life. After four pregnancies and three c-sections, I'm thirty pounds heavier than I'd like to be, and a series of health issues has made me increasingly aware of the importance of taking care of my body. But every exercise program I've embarked on has fizzled because I made it my last priority, and even attempts to eat a relatively healthy diet have been sabotaged by my sweet tooth.

However, I think I've finally found the thing that will motivate me to make some lifestyle changes -- a total thyroidectomy. I've had minor problems with my thyroid for years, but during most of that time I'd either been pregnant or nursing, so the testing and treatment options were limited. When the endocrinologist was finally able to run some tests, the results were suspicious and she recommended that I have my thyroid removed and biopsied. It all happened very quickly - one week I was (as far as I knew) slightly hyperthyroid, the next I'd just had my throat slit by a very reputable surgeon, and was looking at a lifetime on synthetic thyroid supplements.

As illnesses go, thyroid problems are generally fairly minor and easily treated. The scar on my neck is healing nicely (I'm still trying to decide whether to go as Anne Boleyn or Marie Antoinette for Halloween), and the daily pills are a minor inconvenience at worst, once the doctor finds the accurate dosage. But the mention of the dreaded "C" word (even though my biopsy came back completely clean) combined with the knowledge that I now have a chronic condition that must be treated daily for the rest of my life is daunting. I've never felt so aware of my own mortality, or of the frailty of the "container" I've dismissed as unimportant all these years.

It didn't help when a friend, trying to be reassuring, said, "Oh well, we're all getting to the age where we'll have to take pills every day - what's one more pill?" I bristled at the implication that middle age was fast approaching. I'm only thirty-five-years-old!

But one thing is certain: all of this has made health seem more like a necessity than a vanity. In the past few weeks, I've become much more intentional (some might even call it obsessive-compulsive) about my health: trying to exercise every day, watching what I eat, even keeping a daily record of what meds I've taken, what I ate at each meal, and how much exercise I've gotten. My goal isn't to wear a bikini on the beach next summer, but to keep my body in good repair today, tomorrow and fifty years from now. Suddenly that seems like a much more legitimate concern.
About the Author:  
Melissa Lipscomb
lives in Austin with her children Drew, Franny, Alec and husband Adam. Some days she feels like she's figuring out, and others she's just waiting for the other shoe to drop. Visit her blog.



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