In Sickness & In Health
Cat writes about her experience healing her relationship with a sick body & rediscovering beauty after having to re-define what "femininity,' meant to her which was ultimately uplifting and empowering.
It was almost autumn. The leaves on the trees would fall, turning shades of amber and gold. Autumn is beautiful. However when I lost my hair, I didn’t think it was beautiful. I didn’t think I was beautiful.
I have always considered myself incredibly lucky to have fostered a good relationship with my body. I fed it enough food, I gave it love, positivity and care. I was grateful for what it helped me to do. I didn’t mind if I didn’t fit in with the current fashion trends and I didn’t feel the need to bother with makeup, unless I really felt like it. I liked my body. I cared for my body. I liked my strong legs and my wild hair. I knew I wasn't a supermodel and it didn’t bother me- because I was healthy.
Then, I was hospitalised multiple times, spending time in both psych wards and medical wards of hospitals. The medications I took each had their own side effects. The diagnoses attaching themselves to me multiplied. It made me angry. How could I be kind to a body that did nothing but cause me pain and give me limitations? How could I love my body? My body was not acting like a normal body. My brain was sick. My body was sick. There was pain and illness in my body. There was something wrong with it. If there was so much wrong with my body, did it mean something was wrong with me, too? I was angry with my body for not “holding it’s end of the deal”. Hadn’t I looked after it all these years? Hadn’t I praised its beauty and thanked it for everything?
It was almost autumn. The leaves on the trees would lose their leaves, turning beautiful shades of amber and gold.
Pain wrapped around my ribcage with every breath and fatigue kept me watching the world go by, rather than experiencing the world for myself. My physical illnesses kept me from going out with friends or planning ahead. My mental illnesses weren’t much better.
I hated it. I hated my body.
It was during this time that my mental health and respect for myself and my body crashed- not because I hated what my body looked like-- but because I hated what it couldn’t do.
What I couldn’t do because of it.
My misplaced anger at my sick body only made me sicker. My refusal to accept what I couldn’t do made me able to do even less.
It was autumn when I finally decided my hair had to go. No more hats and head scarves to cover my head. During that time, I was in a feverish nightmare, in and out of hospital constantly. Each morning, I would lift my head and stare in horror at the hair still left on the pillow.
My hair was a symbol of being a woman, of being myself. I didn’t know who I would be without my hair.
When I finally made that leap and decided to shave my head it was the scariest and best decision I have ever made. For some it would be distressing. However, for me, it ended up being powerful.
People stared at me wherever I went.
I couldn’t hide – and I didn’t have to.
I didn’t have to look like most women because I wasn’t most women.
I was an individual.
I was disabled.
I was sick.
I was… still alive.
All this time, I’d been chasing the wrong things. I knew I shouldn’t- and I didn’t- idolise looking like a “supermodel”- so why did I idolise being “super healthy”? As if the only way to be a good person, worthy of the world was to be healthy and whole, free of mental illness or chronic pain or disability. My body may not have been “super healthy” but it was super incredible. It had adapted to pain. It had adapted to disability. It had adapted to severe mental illness. It has kept me alive.
My body knew how to tell me what it needed. It told me when I needed rest and when I needed movement. My body showed up for me, pumping blood around my veins and taking breath after breath. Every. Single. Day. Even when, maybe especially when, I didn’t always care for it. Even when I chose not to respect it. Even when I didn’t know how to say thank you, so I picked at its flaws instead.
It took me a long time, but I have learnt my value does not lie either in what I look like, nor in what my body or brain can do. It lies in the fact that I am human, with or without my health. With or without my hair.
It has been three years since I shaved my head. As I have healed and grown, so has my hair. It took a long time, like my journey learning to accept and live with illness has taken a long time. Shaving my head left a lasting impact on me. It gave me a new perspective. It gave me so much more than just a bald head. It gave me hope.
I found more confidence in my own skin and more trust in my body when I stopped desperately clinging to my hair, my femininity and the idea that I needed to be healthy in order to be happy.
When I stopped clinging to the idea I could meet standards designed for people who weren’t me. Just like I shouldn’t have to be healthy to be of value to the world, no one should have to pretend they don’t have limits or that sometimes, they want- or need- to step outside the boxes and norms society has given them.
I could still be feminine with no hair. I could still be myself with no hair! I could still be smart, even if I wasn't at university. I did not cease to exist because I didn’t fit perfectly into moulds designed for people who were not like me- and neither will you.
I’m a full time creative human, part time uni student. I live in the city of Adelaide, in Australia. I am so glad the Matriarch community exists and that I have been given the chance to share my story with you. I hope that it’s given you something to think about and that you felt seen by it in some way. I am so passionate about the power of being vulnerable and the importance of speaking about our mental health and struggles. When I can, I love getting out in nature and spotting birds and other animals in my neighbourhood. I also love music and am currently attempting to learn the ukulele!