Dear Body, I’m Listening

“I don’t feel sick but I don’t feel great. Something is wrong.”

That’s what I said to my partner a couple weeks ago. It had been a long week of high-stress situations. By the end of the week I was struggling to just stay afloat, and was facing another busy week ahead. Some old anxieties had kicked back up, stuff I normally didn’t give too much space. It felt like a storm was brewing in my body.

The next day I started with a sore throat, and the day after that I tested positive for covid. Finally the brick wall I had run into made some sense. Since the incubation range varies so widely I don’t know when I was exposed, but based on my mood and heightened sense of… I don’t even know what to call it… I feel like I could almost pinpoint it to the moment.

All is well now, and although I am still recuperating in some ways, I feel a million times better. The anxiety level has dropped significantly and due to some covid cancellations my schedule has loosened up. I was fortunate that my symptoms were mild and I could socialize and work remotely to help ease the loneliness of those isolation days.

What am I taking away from this experience? A few different things, but mostly that I know my body and how I typically feel. For a long time I have felt disconnected from my body. I’ve been told that I’m a “motor moron” (ie there’s a disconnect between my brain and my motor skills), that I’m clumsy or uncoordinated, etc. And I’ve been believing those things about myself. About my body, but also about the ways that those ideas limit what I can or should be doing. This isn’t to say I’m about to tackle some new crazy challenge I didn’t have faith I could complete before, but it is a good reminder to trust how I feel. Even when I don’t know the reason I feel a particular way, I can still give myself grace and ease as I work through those feelings or experiences.

“I don’t feel sick, but I don’t feel great.” How many times has a woman said that to her doctor? To her family? To anyone who would listen? And how many times have folks brushed aside her comment, saying she probably just needed to do XYZ thing (sleep, eat, lose weight, etc). A lot of us have been taught that our bodies are separate from our being. That our bodies are traitors who wont act how we want them to act as we age or experience other changes. I often hear friends say they “just don’t feel like themselves” after their bodies have changed, but they’re not able to quite pinpoint why that is. If our bodies are tired or sore we’re told to work through “the pain” but not to go so far as to ignore “real pain.” When did tiredness or soreness stop being real and instead become something to push through? If we’re disconnected from our bodies how can we determine what real pain feels like?

I’ll be continuing to grapple with some of these questions, but I will also come back to this post to remind myself that I am connected to my body. I can know and feel things without having the answers for why they are there. I can trust my body.

Amy Smith is a professor of Media & Communication and a communication consultant who lives north of Boston. Her research interests include gender communication and community building. Amy spends her movement time riding the basement bicycle to nowhere, walking her two dogs, and waiting for it to get warm enough for outdoor swimming in New England.

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