How can I practice peace when my stomach looks like this?

A few weeks ago, I attended a special themed “Practice Peace” yoga class (please don’t kill me for incorporating another yoga intention here, but this is honestly what is getting me through everything right now!) While I initially approached this class thinking it might be relaxing, it was intentionally quite physically challenging. Practicing peace during a restorative yoga class is easy- it doesn’t even require practice. Therefore, this class was designed to practice finding peace within ourselves in the face of adversity. Throughout these 75 minutes, my teacher reminded us to keep the internal the same while the external changes, to maintain internal harmony amidst a constantly shifting world.

For the past couple years, I have been struggling with gastroenterological issues- most notably persistent bloating, which has recently intensified. Thinking about my internal and external self has led me to ponder my mind-body relationship as I attempt to answer this question: How can I practice peace when my stomach looks like this?

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I look like I am six months pregnant. My stomach used to curve inward. Now it protrudes outward, sometimes so far that I cannot see past my toes. It feels hard and full of pressure, which causes me great discomfort. Every time I eat, no matter what I eat, it gets bigger and bigger. I am least inflated in the morning, which perhaps explains why I enjoy waking up and exercising at 5am- it’s when I feel best and most like myself. I cannot fall asleep because of my stomach. Instead of choosing my favorite outfits, I desperately search for clothes to conceal my bulging belly. Thank goodness for flattering lululemon pants.

I have seen the top gastroenterologists at the University of Chicago, the “motility wizard” at Emory, and experts at Northwestern. I have tried just about everything, except for the suggestion of my most recent gastroenterologist, which was a medication from planetdrugsdirect.com- it was only $20 and included free shipping! When I explained that I thought this sounded a bit sketchy and asked if it was illegal, he informed me that it was “not that illegal.” My further research revealed that while it might combat my bloating, it is not approved by the FDA due to irreversible neurological damage and sudden death. Concluding that a bloated life is certainly better than no life, I did not purchase this drug.

This past weekend, I saw my endocrinologist at the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation gala. “You look great,” he told me, with a smile. “Look at this!” I exclaimed, directing his attention towards my stomach. “Well, as we know, your body is strange, and there are many things we just do not have answers for.”

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The next night, I lay in bed staring at my “believe” medal rack, which is filled with race finisher medals and age group awards. How on earth did I earn these? My eyes gaze back and forth from my stomach to my medals. I was so proud of my strong, lean body. Where did it go? Who am I now? My distended abdomen does not pair well with neither my preexisting medical conditions- food allergies and type 1 diabetes- nor their associated disordered eating cognitions that I have long struggled with. (I do not know why this issue is so rarely discussed, but I strongly feel it should be! For a super interesting but sad article, read this. I by no means have diabulimia but can definitely relate to these complex psychological and physiological relationships).

For the first time, my invisible illness is becoming visible. Although it may not seem that noticeable to others, it is quite physically and mentally distressing. If you were to lift up my shirt, I am certain you would agree. No matter how well I treat my body, it seems to attack me. My stomach is causing me great physical pain, but even greater is the pain of seeing my body as unfamiliar. Is this what an identity crisis feels like?

Yet somehow, on a path that is currently under construction, I can develop peace within this body. I am determined to keep this “practice peace” intention strong. This peace is not a surrender to my body- I will continue to relentlessly pursue medical treatment- but I must work towards accepting that there may not be an answer, at least not right now. Believing that I will eventually look and feel better is comforting, and I do believe this. Rather than feeling like my mind and body are at war, however, I can practice cultivating peace no matter how my body behaves. I will never “find” peace. It is not a destination, but a process, a practice. I may not be able to control my physical body’s autoimmune attacks. But with time and practice, I can sharpen a more powerful weapon- my mind.

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