My Body Story, Ch. 7

It’s been a while, eh?

My body has been on the back burner for a while.

Mostly because it’s almost a non-issue at this point.

It’s surprisingly weird how easy this feels on the back end of things.

I know my journey wasn’t that. It wasn’t easy. I don’t know if my journey was typical or normal or how other people’s journeys went. I’m pretty sure my journey is not over yet.

But I do know that today, not dieting or purging via exercise (no, not all exercise is purging, chill), I felt cute and that was awesome.

I felt attractive.

I felt sexy.

I liked what I was wearing.

My hair was having an especially good day.

I know this isn’t every day for me. I know most days I don’t give too much thought to how I look. I know there are still days that I grab my belly with disdain.

I know there will always be such days.

But before, there weren’t really these other kinds of days.

Before, there weren’t these days that I felt good. Not unless I was towards the end of a diet cycle, checking out my before and after picture. Even then, they were fleeting. Quickly taken over by the question “How much more an I lose?” or “How will I keep this weight off?”

So that’s where I am today.

For the most part, I eat what I want, when I want, without guilt.

I’ve even started working out, depending on how I feel, and what my body seems to want.

And that’s all I’ve ever wanted. To trust my body to know when it’s hungry and what sustenance it needs and what movement it desires.

I’m getting closer now.

My body story is almost complete.

Fearless Friday and My Body Story Meet Again! (Ch. 6)

About a year ago I got a call from my doctor saying that my PAP had come back abnormal, and I had HPV. She said this nonchalantly and informed me that I’d need to make an appointment for a colcoscopy.

The whole conversation took less than five minutes and left me totally wrecked. How could I a (insert many a stupid, entitled blah blah blah adjectives here) young woman have HPV?!

Firstly, I argued with the doctor in my head, I got the vaccination as soon as I was informed of it in high school. Yes. I got all three. No I didn’t miss any. I completed the series.

Secondly, I used condoms with all my partners. At least at the start. And the one with whom I had stopped using condoms had assured me that he had been tested and was clean before we ever went skin-to-skin.

Thirdly, I GOT THE GOD DAMN PAINFUL, THREE-PART VACCINATION WHEN I WAS A TEENAGER.

To say the least, I went from horrified, to pissed off, to completely broken up about the whole thing. Mainly, I was ashamed. There was nothing dirtier in my mind than an STD, and now I somehow found myself with one.

I took my doctor’s nonchalant attitude as judgment. She was terse because she found me as disgusting as I found myself in that moment (I assumed). And then I wondered how I was gonna tell the guy I had started seeing less than a month earlier with whom I’d already had sex (please leave any and all judgment at the door, people).

When I hung up the phone my mom went through her own version of what I described above (I was still between jobs and living at home at this point, so my mom had heard my side of the entire conversation), while also trying to comfort me. I’m sure it would have been comical if I wasn’t so crushed.

I scheduled my colcoscopy, hoping they didn’t mishear me and schedule me for a colonoscopy, and felt a sinking feeling in my stomach. Just a little over a year before I had found a lump in my breast and was scheduled for a biopsy that was (thankfully) stopped at pretty much the last second. Turned out what the tech saw on the ultrasound was a shadow and not actually a concerning, potentially cancerous mass. How was I going through another possible cancer scare again so soon?! (Turns out, abnormal PAP does not mean cancer! What????).

After that I dutifully told both the ex with whom I hadn’t used a condom and my new beau with whom I had. The ex got a text. I was mad at him. I assumed he was the source and I tried to hurt him. He was profusely apologetic and swore he would get checked (PS men can’t get tested for HPV, #notsofunfunfact). I just asked him to be more careful about not using condoms (I only found out later that this is one STD condoms cannot prevent) and called it a day.

My new beau got a phone call. I told him what was told to me: that while we had been safe odds are since I had it he has it. He was at work and asked if we could discuss further over dinner. The rest of the day I was sure that he was going to dump me that night, that he was just a classy guy and thought it more fitting to do so face-to-face, not over the phone.

I continued telling people. First my family. Ever since the breast cancer scare we had an agreement that we were open about all medical things, no matter how embarrassing or insignificant. Then my best friends from high school. I’m not sure what made me comfortable enough to tell them. I mean we’ve been friends for over a decade. But I think it was more related to the fact that they had both, at some point or other, been interested in a medical profession. Also because we would have gotten our vaccines around the same time (I assume, our mothers being similar ish on this front, that they got vaccinated as well).

My friends along with the internet tried to assure me that HPV was not a big deal. That a huge percent of the population would have HPV at some point in their lives. And that for most of those people HPV would clear up on its own and not lead to cancer. One of my friends even said that since she was on the three year track with her PAPs she might have had HPV in that time and not ever know about it.

I was not comforted. My colcoscopy came back with mild dysphasia, and I still wasn’t particularly comforted. I was happy that I wouldn’t have to go through any sort of removal procedures that I read about online. But still, not comforted.

My boyfriend didn’t leave me. He assured me we would work through it together. I had a year to wait until my next PAP. For the most part, I’ll admit, this wasn’t on my mind. Somehow, I was finally able to see it for what it was, an infection that my body would most likely clear. But each time a seemingly new wart popped up on my partner’s hand (I say seemingly, because I don’t think they changed at all, I think we are just slight hypochondriacs), we freaked out a little, not knowing at the time that the high risk strain that had been detected in me would not cause warts.

Well, as of last week, a year had passed and I found myself in the stirrups again. This time my new doctor ran both a PAP and an HPV test, the latter because I had had an abnormal PAP in the past. That was last Thursday. On Monday my HPV test came back positive. I cried. I turned to the internet again and found enough articles that said on average the infection would clear in 1-2 years. I told my mom and partner, armed with this new information. On Tuesday my PAP came back normal. I cheered. I sent my partner the dancing woman emoji in celebration.

Yesterday I scheduled my second colcoscopy. Since I previously had an abnormal PAP and now a positive HPV test, this was the course of action that my new doctor recommended.

I am no longer upset at or disgusted with myself. I am, however, angry at the lack of information that I had about HPV. I’m not sure what the state of sex education is in the United States today, but my experience was clearly lacking. For being the most common STD there is, I can’t say I knew much about HPV nor was I prepared for the very high likelihood that I would get it.

I’m also angry at Merck and my pediatrician (again). He are the facts I wasn’t told when I received the original Gardasil. Gardasil only protects again four of the over 100 strains of HPV out there (that’s <4%). Two of the four are associated with about 75% of cervical cancer. The other two are associated with 90% of genital warts. Odds are I would still get HPV, even a high risk strain of HPV, but odds are now much lower that I would get cervical cancer. By the way, Gardasil 9, which was approved almost two years ago, covers an additional 5 strains associated with another 20% of cervical cancers. (source)

Finally, I am beyond outraged at Merck’s/Gardasil’s latest advertising campaign. I’m talking about the commercial with the little girl and the little boy who pleadingly ask their parents if they would have given them Gardasil if they’d known it would prevent their cancer in the future. It’s a disgusting and guilt-filled attempt to get people to buy their product. And it’s upsetting to me, because once again the focus is on the big scary C word and not on informing people of the statistics that are much more likely to impact them.

The truth is, the only way to prevent HPV is to only have sex with one partner who has also only had sex with you (or abstain all together!). That was never in the books for me. And that’s how I find comfort. There was almost nothing I could do to prevent this. The first guy I ever had sex with was not a virgin. I was doomed from day one.

If you, like me, don’t fall into this category of people, odds are you will some day have HPV too. According to the piece I found most comfort in after coming back HPV positive earlier this week, 80% of sexually active adults will have HPV by the time they are 50 (source << read this!). Even the CDC concedes that “HPV is so common that most sexually-active men and women will get at least one type of HPV at some point in their lives.” I’ve also heard it referred to as the common cold of vaginas. So if you find yourself with an abnormal PAP test, I hope this brings you some comfort. You are far from alone. And depending on your vaccination history odds are pretty low that your infection will turn into warts or cancer.

**This is not an opinion on whether you should or shouldn’t get the HPV vaccine. I have not studied the vaccine, the statistics around it, or its potential side effects.

My Body Story: Ch. 5

So, this used to be easy to write and lately it’s been really hard. As in last week. Last week it was really hard. That Ch. 4 post was super painful. Not because of the content. I don’t think that content was any more difficult than other posts of written. It’s just started feeling like pulling teeth. There was no flow. It was choppy. And so I’ve decided to try something new, and take a more positive approach this week.

You see, the truth is, my body story has not been 100% bad. But this series make it seem like that might be the case.

So I’m coming clean (any body keeping track of how many times this is?), my body story has had some pretty amazing upsides, namely thanks to the fitness side of the bargain.

Ahhh my fitness story. To be honest, I was never the most athletic person. Let’s call it a lack of hand-eye coordination. So when an ice rink opened up in Scottsdale right when we moved to Arizona, it seemed like a good time to take up a sport.

I proceeded to figure skate for seven years, the longest I ever stuck to any extracurricular activity (other than television, am I right?!). Although the sport had me moving for an average of an hour a day, I can’t say my body was showing any sign of the physical activity (as in it didn’t make me lose weight…THE HORROR). And now, as I write this, I’m realizing that’s exactly what fitness should be. It should be something you love to do, regardless of how it impacts your appearance.

After that, I didn’t do much regular physical activity until college. As I mentioned, during my summer internships I walked about 3 miles a day five times a week. That was mostly out of convenience…it took me a little longer to get where I was going than it did by bus, but I wasn’t reliant on a schedule…I could head to work whenever I pleased.

At some point in college, I started working out regularly with friends. At first, it was doing Insanity with a few of my friends in the mornings before class. Eventually I found my own regimen through something called BodyRock: 12-25 minute HIIT workouts. I loved these workouts: they were short, they were intense, I could definitely tell that my fitness level and my ability were increasing.

Eventually I needed to switch it up…my personal fitness didn’t not completely overcome my serious body-image issues and comparing myself to the hosts of BodyRock was noticeably impacting me. At this point I tried a few other fitness programs and was eventually asked by a friend if I would be interested in running a marathon with her in nine months time. That was January three years ago.

While I had dabbled with running off and on since my last year in college, I had never run even six miles at that point. I had never done any kind of training that had a goal in the end. I had never, ever in my life considered becoming a long distance runner. I jumped on the idea.

My first run over six miles was a week after that first break up that I mentioned in Ch. 3. I ran 6.7 miles. It was easy. I was amazed at the success of training. I was AMAZED at what training allowed my body to do. I finished that marathon. It wasn’t easy. I wanted to give up at mile 14. A guy collapsed next to me at mile 20. My hamstring cramped at mile 24. But I ran the whole thing and I had never been prouder of my body. Six months later I ran a half marathon with very little formal training. I cheated myself of the awe of training, but again I was in awe of what my body was physically capable of.

During my first round of training I started using weights to increase my strength. After running my second race I started focusing on strength training. If I had to guess I’d say I read somewhere that strength is actually more effective for weight loss than cardio (fuck, I know). Around this time, Beach Body’s 21 Day Fix came out. Then 21 Day Fix Extreme. Honestly, these two programs focus almost entirely on weight loss. But they were also my gateway into formal weight training. These programs only supported my body issues, supporting before and after pictures, supporting sticking to diets, selling supplements.

Eventually I did a solely weight lifting program called Body Beast. This was, I’d argue, more targeted towards men and focused more on bulking up rather than leaning out. The last Beach Body program I did was called Hammer and Chisel. And on that faithful day in February when I realized I continued to working out because of how much I hated my body, I stopped that too.

I stopped, but I still look back at all these trainings and programs and think about what my body was capable of doing: how many miles it ran, how many pushups it did, my heaviest squat, my fastest mile. The problem is, going into these programs hating my body, made me lose track of these amazing accomplishments and got me focusing on how my body looked as a result of them.

I hope to work out again soon. I hope to do short, concentrated HIIT workouts. I have visions of hill sprint workouts (I loved these when I started speed training). But I am also scared. I am scared that if I start working out before I’ve figured out my body image issues, I will just spiral into hate, into before and after pictures, into restricting and binging. So that’s why I’m not rushing myself. I’m working through the random loathing I’ve felt at how lazy I’m being. I’m working through the weekly random loathing of the little gut that I’ve formed. I’m celebrating the times I look in the mirror and see beauty regardless of the weight I’ve gained. And some day, I hope soon (but no rush, right?), I will put on my running shoes, and I will go to a track, and I will do a short workout, and I will come home and I will revel in knowing that I did something good for my body out of love, and not out of hate.

So what are some of my accomplishments? I have completed one marathon, one half marathon, a tough mudder, two 10k races, two 5k races, I’ve run a sub 8 minute mile, I’ve squatted upwards of a hundred pounds, I’ve deadlifted 95 pounds, I’ve done more push-ups and burpees than I can attempt to count. I can touch my hand to the floor in a forwards fold, my head to my knees in a seated fold, and I can touch my heels to the ground in a downward dog. Before I quit skating I had landed a double axel and all the jumps beneath it. I was very proud of my camel-to-sit spin to back sit spin, though I never got my back bed quite right. I’ve walked and run countless miles outside my races. I’ve hiked anywhere from easy to more challenging hikes all around the US. I’ve kayaked, played tennis, done stand up paddle boarding. I have swam (swum?) and done back flips off docks into rivers. I tried (and failed hilariously) at water skiing. I even faced my fear of heights and took a 15-20 foot leap into a river off my friend’s porch. I’ve rappelled. I’ve rock climbed (though not in a while). I took ballet and jazz for as long as I skated. I even tried to teach myself to surf once. These are all the things my body has helped me achieve, all while I’ve hated some part of it. I wonder what we can accomplish once I’ve learned to accept it!