IT HAPPENED TO ME: It Took Lyme Disease For Me To Get Over My Body Issues

I finally had the body I’d wanted in high school, but it had all ceased to matter to me anymore.
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Michelle Marie Wallace
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I finally had the body I’d wanted in high school, but it had all ceased to matter to me anymore.

I have always been fit; even so, I have spent more time criticizing my figure than appreciating it. 

I never worked out, exactly. It seems like as soon as I could walk, I was learning to swim and jump and cartwheel and kick a ball. I played sports competitively and danced seriously for years. After I graduated from college, I became a pilates instructor and started yoga.

I was strong and toned and in great shape, but all the running and yoga and dance never cut the body that I thought I was supposed to have.

Working out on the Pilates Reformer.

Working out on the Pilates Reformer.

It was in high school that I, like many girls, became obsessed with how I looked. Or rather, how I didn’t look. I wasn’t willowy or delicate or waifish. As a sprinter, I could never find jeans that would fit over my thighs and ass and not sag inches at my waist; or if I found jeans that might have fit my waist, I could never pull them even halfway up my thighs. 

I spent every single dance class filled with shame at how much larger I was than everyone else in class. I hated to look in the mirror. I passed over how I was all muscle and power and focused on what I wasn’t: narrow-hipped with thighs that didn’t rub against each other at each step.

I was young and strong, yet wore baggy shirts and long men’s shorts. I shunned feminine fits, bikinis, short shorts, anything that would reveal my thick, muscular thighs and broad back and shoulders.

Ten years later, I might still be struggling with the same body image issues had I not gotten Lyme disease. 

I went undiagnosed for well over a decade, and by the time that I was diagnosed, I’d moved in with my parents because I had become completely disabled by Lyme. I was hooked up to an IV of antibiotics daily and wandered around in a haze of confusion. I’d lost most of my memory, forgetting who the people were at family reunions and frequently getting lost in my hometown. I limped from the roving muscular and joint pain that comes with Lyme, half my hair had fallen out, I slurred my speech and, once bilingual, had lost most of my command of language and communication.

I also couldn’t keep any weight on. My body was fighting like hell to get better, and I’d wake in the middle of the night after dinner from hunger pangs, so I’d cook four or five sausage patties and eat them all, only to wake hours later with a growling stomach. 

Because I was on such an intensive treatment of antibiotics, all the friendly intestinal flora died off and I developed a systemic yeast infection (where yeast grew in my blood and lined my intestines). In an attempt to get my body back in balance, along with consuming massive quantities of probiotics, my doctors put me on very restrictive diet: no sugar, no molds, no yeast, which translates into no alcohol, deserts, fruit, grains or roots. I ate, essentially, vegetables and meat.

I lost weight, of course. I was thinner than I’d ever been, and soon enough, I had the body I’d wanted in high school. My thighs didn’t touch. I had no belly fat. My once-tight yoga pants hung listlessly from my protruding hip points, my clavicles were razor-sharp and my face seemed to be all cheek bone. I’d see myself in the mirror and wonder just how long until I disappeared completely.

I also received more compliments on my figure than I ever had before. Clients asked me what I was doing to look like that and people offered me the backhanded, “Well, Lyme can’t be all that bad with the figure you have.” Clothes had never hung so well on me. I looked how I was supposed to and finally, it had all ceased to matter to me anymore. It came, for me, at too great a cost.

In getting better, I was relieved to get back my hips and thighs, but with them, I also got something new: perspective. I care how I look, sure, but it comes very low on my list of priorities. I bike, I run, I climb, I dance because it makes me feel alive, because I know myself best when I am in motion. I eat healthily because I value feeling vibrant and bright above all else now; but eating healthily, for me, means never restricting food, never mentally labeling food as "bad" because of how it might show up on my thighs, and always sharing meals with the people I love. 

I revel in the joys of living, and love my body for what it can do, which translates into a love for what I look like. But that is appropriately secondary.