Forgiving the Flesh–In Which I Recount the Ways My Body Has Betrayed Me

Dear Lily June,

As human beings, we live in the flimsy structures of our fleshy bodies. Our hearts, like birds, are protected only by a cage of ribs; our minds, like yolks, sit inside the bony eggs of our skulls. It is a system designed to be fragile and frail. We are not built to last forever.

In my youth, I felt as if my body was invincible and thus, I treated it as if it were invisible. (In fact, your Grandma Raelyn might recall to you someday how I used to hide my body, as a toddler, under my ratty baby blanket, transforming myself into a makeshift ghost and earnestly believing no one could see me when I was under there.)

When my own Grandmother Mary began the comparison game as I hit my early teens, wondering why I couldn’t “try to be beautiful” like my sister–your Aunt Loren–I detached my faith from my body entirely. I thought, in that time, there were two paths a woman could walk: beautifying the palace of the body or retreating into the sanctuary of the mind. I chose the latter, burying my unpainted face in books. For the most part, I never considered how I’d turned my back on my body. Unfortunately, the body will not be ignored forever.


It was in my first year in college that my body truly began to break down. It all started when I went to brush my hair and my fingers slipped over a smooth spot. It didn’t register right away what I was feeling–could there be something stuck in my hair, I wondered, making it feel so oily and smooth in one particular area?

What I was feeling, I would learn later, was a bald spot. I was nineteen and in reasonably good health. Nineteen year old girls just don’t go bald, I reasoned. It must be “the big C.” I went into a wet chicken panic, throwing myself around dramatically, sure I had been granted a death sentence by my own hairbrush. I’m glad you didn’t meet that version of your mom, Lily. It would have been a bad time to know me.

Alopecia_areata (2)
After having Alopecia Areata, any day when I had hair was a “good hair day.”

It turns out it was my first bout with alopecia areata, an autoimmune disorder where the body attacks its own hair and follicle cells as if they were the cells of a disease. My hair fell out for my first year in school in tufts and patches, though I never did discover, half the time, where it went. (I never felt as if I were leaving behind clumps the size of sewer rats in my shower, and yet, my scalp begged to differ.)

What I should have gotten was that my body was like a puppy–wreaking havoc in a desperate attempt to garner a little attention. Instead, I retreated deeper into my mind, trying to control my environment if I couldn’t control my body within it.


It was around this time that I began compulsively making lists (a symptom I would learn later was fairly typical of OCPD). It was a way of organizing the disorder I felt with the stress of college. Poverty kept me from living in dorms after the first year; I took two part time jobs to afford books and incidentals, and I took two buses each day–one to and one from campus–in order to make my three hour round-trip commute to save on living costs.

I was not your typical college kid, drunk on freedom or just, as so many are, freely drunk. One of the first in my family to even go to college, I was saddled with the responsibility of my own future early on, taking out loans I had no earthly business being granted to pursue a field I had no earthly business studying if I ever wanted to pay those loans back: English.

And so I tried to control the breakdown of the body with a buildup of vocabulary. I tried to hide my pain under a mountain of to-do items revolving around work and study. I tried, even with my hair falling out in patches, to again ignore my body. Unfortunately, the body will not be ignored forever.


Another hit came the summer I turned twenty: the sudden urge to go to the bathroom more and more frequently. And then pain, leading up to and after the release. And then the pain progressed from a light nagging to a hard knocking at the door of my nerves. And eventually, it couldn’t be ignored any longer, and I assumed, as did my doctors, I had some kind of UTI.

Over and over for months that summer I was put on one after the other course of antibiotics. Urinalyses determined there was no bacteria in my bladder, but the pain and the frequency persisted no matter how much cranberry juice I downed by the gallon. I got up two, three, four, twelve times a night to pee, and the resulting insomnia got me into a bad love affair with caffeine.

I’d drink coffee and tea to stay awake during the day, but it seemed as if that exacerbated the pain, keeping me up more at night. Drink. Pee. Pee. Drink. Rinse. Repeat.

After a series of invasive tests–trans-vaginal ultrasounds that turned me into a human joy-stick, a cystoscopy that slithered a camera snake into my urethra and stung about as much afterwards as if I’d been bitten by it–I had another diagnosis under my belt: interstitial cystitis (sometimes abbreviated IC).

Cystoscope-med-20050425 (2)
Never has any woman looked at this and thought, “I want you inside of me.”

Like alopecia, this was another autoimmune disorder. Like alopecia, my body’s immune system was launching an arsenal against healthy cells, this time in the lining of my bladder, causing discomfort, embarrassment, pain, and a feeling of being imprisoned in my own, well, self.

For the second time before I could even legally drink, my body had betrayed me. My hair–called a woman’s crowning jewel–had strands that jumped like a suicidal lemmings from my scalp. My bladder–an organ that I would have been as accurate pinpointing the location of before all this as an American would be pointing out the location of Uzbekistan on a map–was cracking like chapped lips.

I felt as if, in all ways that one can, I was falling to pieces.


Things got better, Lily, as they’re apt to do in this life, even if you don’t do anything. The universe can only rain on so many of any one person’s parades before the clouds shift direction.

Fast forward with me for a minute. So successful had my lists been in keeping the chaos neatly arranged that I not only graduated from the University of Pittsburgh summa cum laude, I was my major’s graduation speaker. I got into graduate school, moved to the deep South, met, fell in love with, and married your dad, lived through a tornado (another story for another time), fled back up to the north in fear, and made real a life-long dream: having you.


Pregnancy was to be an awesome adventure, and suddenly, I couldn’t ignore my body even if I wanted to. My flesh had become a rental property, and as the landlord, I could suddenly see how worn down the grounds were. It started, for instance, with the progesterone scare that made me question my ability to grow and maintain a healthy placenta. I had to be afraid my bone house might harm you.

After we jumped through that hoop, though, for a while, I was granted a blissful reprieve. In one of nature’s kindly little flukes, my second trimester saw my IC in remission, at least in terms of pain. (As my expanding uterus put pressure on my bladder, nothing could stop the frequency.) Less pain meant better sleep, and a heaping helping of feel good hormones made the laughs come easy.

Lily June, I will never forget the extraordinary flutters of your movements inside of me–the way you would tickle my tummy with your hiccups, your hilarious assault on daddy’s face when he leaned against my womb to hear you and you let out the full-force of your kicks against his cheek. For the extent of the middle part of your stay, you changed my body from a prison I was trapped in into a secret garden I felt privileged to tend.


That magic made the harsh snap back to reality that much harder to take when things started to go so wrong so quickly. The preeclampsia, the “failure to progress,” the resulting C-section: now my body was failing you when it was failing me. I spent the first weeks of your life looking down at my flabby flesh and my Cesarean scar and hating the ways it had let us both down, wanting to punish my body for being fallible, frail, the damaged shell of a person. But then, I was the one who had ignored it for so long, even when it was screaming to me that I needed help, that I had to cut back on stress and bad habits, that I had to open my eyes and be a human being.

I think it’s time, Lily, now that I want you to have a different relationship entirely to your physicality, that I (try to) make and keep the peace. And so, without further adieu, I’m going to interrupt your letter, Lily, to talk directly, for a minute, with my Body:

Body, I forgive you.

I forgive you for showing me, so violently, that you needed me to pay more attention to you. I forgive you for attacking healthy cells because you were as scared and confused as my mind during an overworked, overwhelmed time. I forgive you for alopecia. I forgive you for IC.

Body, I forgive for the whole host of problems during the pregnancy. Maybe at the end, you failed to be induced, your cervix failed to open, your contractions failed to progress the labor. But we didn’t fail to live through a very scary surgery together. And I didn’t fail to love my girl the second I heard her first cry as she was wrenched from you, my body. I didn’t fail to dress her in her first outfit, even when my elevated blood pressure gave you the shakes so bad it took me ten minutes to do so. Everything I do with and for Lily is another way we didn’t fail–I didn’t fail you, and you didn’t fail me.

Early on in the pregnancy, we were told Lily probably wouldn’t make it. But she didn’t fail to survive, that little miracle. You kept her alive. So now, I won’t fail to survive, either. Like daughter, like mother.

Body, I forgive you the flesh and the fat and the stretchmarks and the scar. They were never flaws to begin with, and I’m sorry I saw them that way. Body, I will work on my mind–I will get the counseling I need to pull through the emotional pain I’m still feeling. I’m sorry I am still reeling in so many ways, but seeing how you react to stress, I will make strides.

I’m sorry it took me so long to say I’m sorry.

Here’s the secret I will say to you that is really as much for Lily: Body, you are beautiful. You have born Lily, and you have borne me through. You, Body, have done the best you could with what I’ve given you. And like I will with Lily, I’m going to try, from now on, to give you the moon.

I will quit smoking. I will start eating healthy (again). I will exercise more regularly. I will heal us. And I will beg you, in the meantime, to forgive me.


Picture Credits:

149 thoughts on “Forgiving the Flesh–In Which I Recount the Ways My Body Has Betrayed Me

  1. praisehimalways says:

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful story. I too can relate to my body dysfunctions. I often warn my friends and young people to not abuse their bodies because at some point, any point in their lives their bodies will abuse them back. Reblogged on

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sara G. Novick says:

    I suffer from two severe physical conditions. I made a plan I call the 1-and-1-and-1 Plan to make goals and accomplishments every day and be successful doing them. And I like naming things. To my surprise, my plan for myself’s being sick garnered attention. That’s how I wound up with I don’t know if you’ll find it helpful, but you may want to give it a spin.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. missshawna9891 says:

    Thank you for sharing your story! I can relate on stress and having to learn to listen to my body. I did the same in focusing on school to push through physical limitations and I came to realize it doesn’t matter how successful you are career wise if you do not feel well. Good vibes to you!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Healthy in Bangalore says:

    Oh my. Sorry. I had trouble getting through this completely because I have a similar auto-immune disorder of my own, recently discovered at age 21. It can be terrifying to struggle with an illness like this, especially when it seems like the chief victim is my own vanity, and at times I struggle with trying not to panic when I think about it. How did you deal with yours when you were in college? How can I learn to forgive my body?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. dearlilyjune says:

      I wish I could say I had a good strategy for getting through it. It just takes time.

      It’s not vanity to fear or mourn the way the body changes. How you look becomes a part of your identity, and, for instance, when I lost my hair, I had to grieve that former self I used to see in the mirror to accept the new one.

      Give yourself time to get used to it all. Know that, with enough time, almost anything becomes normal, and you stop longing for the past and a vision of who you used to be, and are able to accept the present and who you are.

      I am so sorry for your health struggles, and if you ever want someone to talk to, feel free to email me.


  5. GRACE ANATOMY says:

    I thank you for sharing your story. It touched me in a way that made me grateful for God keeping me for 33 years after how badly I have treated myself. When I was young I too didn’t realize the frailty of the flesh that we are ” renting ” for a short time when you think of how long eternity is. I have since done my best to forgive myself and ask for forgiveness and move forward in a more positive direction. Be encouraged!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Donna-Louise Bishop says:

    Thank you so much for sharing not his beautiful, raw and honest post. I too suffered with alopecia, albeit temporary brought on by stress, was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in my early twenties and also “didn’t progress” before having an emergency c-section with my first. It’s easy to be angry with our bodies and for so long I was. But it’s reading things like this which keeps me positive. Thanks again for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. BunKaryudo says:

    You’ve been through a lot, that’s clear. I’m sorry that your body played some nasty tricks on you before you were even a fully-signed up member of the adult community. On the other hand, your body also gave you the chance to create a new life and that — to put it mildly — is no small thing.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. joyroses13 says:

    This is great! A creative and emotional piece! Well done! and I can feel for you. I am afraid that my 16 year old daughter is dealing with alopecia 😦 Is there a way to fix it before it gets too bad? She deals with a lot of anxiety too. Do I need to go to a specialist to diagnose it?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. dearlilyjune says:

      The only thing I found that helped me was this shampoo stuff:

      It smells pretty medicinal, but it seemed to work for me. I would definitely help your daughter deal with the root cause–the anxiety–before it manifests in more destructive ways, like IC.

      She should be tested for Lupus, too, as they thought initially that’s what was going on with me. But unfortunately, the doctors didn’t know what caused my alopecia, and they didn’t know what fixed it. Their only theory was that stress was impacting me. Your daughter will be in my thoughts.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Wobbly EPM Horse says:

    I can relate to much of what you’ve been through. And, in the end, coming to the conclusion that we must work with our bodies is not only the healthiest outlook, but the easiest in the long run. I am learning to forgive failures (miscarriages, failed diets, etc.), and celebrate successes (the baby born healthy who was a doomed fetus). I am living with various medical conditions and, when forced to remain in bed for days, I take the opportunity to read, relax, and research as much as possible. Keep moving forward!!! I’ll share your blog on my chronic pain blog, too.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Wobbly EPM Horse says:

    Reblogged this on Life with Chronic Pain and commented:
    Fibromyalgia makes all of its sufferers hate their bodies from time to time.
    We can’t sleep. We hurt all over. We can’t always concentrate. We are always looking for relief. Our doctors don’t get it. It is important to remember the wonderful things we HAVE done because of our bodies, whether giving birth to a child, overcoming a life-altering obstacle, or learning to adjust when some of our parts are taken away. This blog is a great example of being able to look at yourself – and your body – in a better light.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s