No Regret, Only Joy

CW: body image, body dysmorphia

I am officially one week (and one day) post-op!

For those who didn’t read my last post, my insurance company gave me breast reduction surgery for Christmas! Recovery hasn’t been as tough as I expected, though it still has its ups and downs. Gravity is not my friend at the moment, but my bathroom mirror finally is!

First, I’m not going to gloss over the difficult moments. The first time I looked down at my new chest I cried. They still looked too big and they hurt like the devil. Yes, I could breathe easier (strange, but true) and my breasts were finally sitting where they were supposed to on my chest, but I still wasn’t excited yet. It wasn’t until yesterday—a full week post-op—that I looked at my bare chest in the mirror. And when I did, I couldn’t stop laughing.

I love my new boobs! They’re still swollen and bruised and taped up, and they will be for a while, but damn they look good. They finally match the image of myself in my head. It’s such a good feeling that I’ve felt high ever since. I already feel more confident, and more in love with my body.

That last part I didn’t expect. But I’m finally seeing my body in a brand new way. Some of my body dysmorphia has begun to fade, as well. When I look in the mirror, I can see a tall, thin girl. Before, I considered myself one of those “big-boned” tall girls. My breasts took up most of my abdomen and made me feel generally large. I don’t see that girl in the mirror as much anymore.

I was hesitant writing this down, but I’m gonna say it: my body is beautiful. I am so happy that I’m starting to see that.

If anyone has considered having this procedure done and has questions I might be able to answer, feel free to contact me. I couldn’t have done this without the r/Reduction subreddit, and I can’t imagine going through this alone.

I’m sure I’ll continue mentioning my recovery in the year to come, but for now I am just giddy and in love with my new boobs. I am ringing in the new year with a body I now enjoy looking at in the mirror. And that’s a big friggin’ deal.

Merry Christmas to Me!

I’m gonna get super real in this one. Are you ready?

Ever since puberty hit and my boobs just kept growing I’ve felt as though they didn’t belong to me. The image of myself in my mind didn’t match with what I saw in the mirror. For roughly 10 years, I’ve wanted a reduction. In fact, when I was in high school, I wrote my parents a letter that I left on their bed asking for surgery, too ashamed to even ask them face-to-face. (This followed my initial diagnosis of my autoimmune disease, so my parents rightly decided that surgery wasn’t the best option for me then.) I’ve always strived to be honest on my blog, plus it’s often where I do my processing. It felt important to write this post. So here goes:

My insurance company has approved my breast reduction surgery, and my surgeon is fitting me in next week. I’m about to have smaller boobs!

A lot of thought, time and energy went into this decision, but so did many years of feeling detached from a part of myself. For most of my life I’ve gotten the comments “I had no idea your boobs were so big!” and “I would kill for your rack!” and “If it’s any consolation, you hide them really well,” from roommates and friends and even some medical professionals. But here’s the thing: I don’t want to hide my boobs! I want to be proud of them, to wear clothes that make me feel sexy and confident and like me. And now I’m finally getting that chance.

No more needing to bind my breasts to access certain styles or comfort. Besides, binding my breasts has been SO uncomfortable and never gives me what I really want. I have multiple Pinterest boards full of clothes/styles I never thought I’d be able to wear because of my breasts. It feels incredible knowing that I’m actually going to have the chance to find a style that is truly authentic and fits who I am and how I want to express myself. Not only that, but this surgery will alleviate chronic pain I’ve dealt with my entire life, and hopefully improve my posture. But the biggest, most important part of all this is that I am getting the chance to feel like a part of my body that I’ve felt shame for my entire life actually belongs to me.

This feels scary to write here largely because it still feels too good to be true. I still have to take a COVID test and hope that my surgeon doesn’t get called into an emergency before my scheduled procedure. Plus, because of insurance, I can only make this work if I do it before the end of the year. So in a way, I don’t want to get my hopes up too high. But on the other end of that spectrum, I need to keep reminding myself of the positives in order to speak into the fear that I’m also feeling. My therapist had me make a list of reminders to post around my house to look at before surgery (while I’m still super anxious) and post-op (when pain or limited mobility might make things tough), and the list is already a full page long (and still growing!). I’m getting the chance to change so many things that I’ve been unhappy with for most of my life, and I am so grateful.

Yeah, I’m terrified of having this surgery. And it’s a little scary writing about it here. But, as a dear friend reminded me, all of this is bringing me more in alignment with my authentic self and that can only bring positives. I’m choosing to do a scary and difficult thing in service of who I truly am. My outside will finally match my inside.

My job is to disappoint as many people as it takes to avoid disappointing myself. This (paraphrased) quote from Untamed has been helping me a lot through this process. Especially because I tend to care too much about what others think, so much so that I can derail my own life to make others feel more comfortable. But I’ve spent the last 10 years praying that this day would come. I’ve researched, talked to my doctors and surgeon, processed with my therapist, and even had conversations with my boobs in the mirror. It felt as though the universe handed me this gift just in time for Christmas. I know I’ve made the right decision.

I’m ready to feel more confident in my body, more aligned with my femininity, and be more expressive with the androgyny I’ve been waiting to fully explore. Let this post serve as my reminder, for when the fear tries to creep in or recovery gets tough, that I’m ready for this. I’ve always been ready.

What The Legend of Korra Taught Me About PTSD

CW: eating disorders, phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder
This post discusses season 4 of The Legend of Korra; spoiler alert to those who care!

Quarantine has introduced me to both Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra, and I couldn’t believe I had gone so many years without seeing either of these hit shows!

Korra on her recovery journey in The Legend of Korra

While I’m completely obsessed with both shows (after taking many Buzzfeed and personality quizzes, it turns out I’m a Firebender!) and their complex characters (Katara, Asami, Zuko, Jinora, Uncle Iroh!!!! The list goes on and on…), what stood out to me was how Korra dealt with a significant trauma at the end of season 3 and into season 4 of The Legend of Korra. I’ve never seen a more realistic portrayal of anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder on screen before, and I found myself relating to Korra more than I ever expected to. What I appreciated about this series is that season 4 doesn’t offer us a new villain for Korra to battle right off the bat. Instead, she battles with herself.

In the post I shared about my specific eating disorder, I mentioned a long period of nightly nausea spells as a child that morphed into a full-blown phobia of getting sick. In that post I wrote that my eating disorder is defined as an “aversion to eating due to a traumatic experience.” Trauma (as my therapist defines it) is a real or perceived threat of serious harm or death, with perception being the key word. While some may have dealt with chronic nausea and grown up without any fears around it, my experience was different. Real or not, as a child I continued to think “This is scary and keeps happening, and no one is explaining it to me.” What my current therapist has helped me understand is that due to the constant spells of nausea in my childhood that left me more and more terrified each night I spent on the bathroom floor, I now experience CPTSD, or complex post-traumatic stress disorder. (The difference between CPTSD and PTSD is that complex post-traumatic stress disorder results from repeated trauma over months or years, rather than from a single traumatic event.) I can feel intense, physical anxiety when it comes to certain food, smells, bodily sensations, and even some bathrooms.

At the end of season 3, Korra is tortured, suffocated, and poisoned by villain Zaheer and though she survives, the experience leaves her traumatized, physically and mentally. When season 4 begins, we see flashbacks of Korra’s early recovery period, with symptoms of PTSD leaving her unable to stand, eat, or sleep. When Korra goes to see Katara, a healing waterbender, for help in her recovery process, Katara says she can help guide her healing process, but whether she gets better or not is up to Korra. She proceeds to show Korra how involved her mind is in her recovery, eventually helping her to walk again.

During a particularly frustrating healing session, Katara tells Korra “the mind can be a powerful ally or your greatest enemy,” and assures her that she’s safe even though her body thinks she’s still in danger. I perked up when I heard this, as my therapist often tells me that my anxiety is responding to a false alarm in the body, trying to protect me from a threat that doesn’t actually exist.

Korra sees a hallucination of herself in the Avatar State in The Legend of Korra

This is something Korra continues to struggle with, particularly as she experiences flashbacks and hallucinations from her trauma. It’s difficult to think you’re safe when your body feels as though it’s reliving your traumatic experience over and over again. (I’ve been told I need to read the book The Body Keeps the Score, and I look forward to reflecting on this post once I’ve done so.)

Eventually, haunted by her trauma and feeling isolated and misunderstood, Korra disconnects from her loved ones and leaves to travel the world alone. Though everywhere she goes, she is followed by an eerie hallucination of herself bound in chains. This was a beautiful (albeit spooky) representation of how it feels to be bound to your trauma, particularly during the scene in which Korra’s projected Avatar-State-self uses the chains to start “dragging her down with her” into sinking mud during an intense hallucination.

Korra quite literally battles her own mind, despite standing up to her hallucinated self and stating “You’re just in my mind. You’re not real.” Even though anxiety does lie in our minds, it can manifest itself very physically, and for someone struggling with PTSD, it’s difficult to recognize anxiety for what it is.

It doesn’t matter that Korra recognizes that her hallucinations are only in her mind, her physical symptoms are very real. As someone who has grown up struggling with symptoms of fear and anxiety, constantly being told the symptoms were all in my head—that none of what I was experiencing and feeling was real—I could empathize strongly with Korra. It took me a long time to learn that while my anxiety came from my mind, I was still experiencing physical symptoms. I still struggle with validating my own feelings and experiences, but now I know how to soothe both my anxious mind and anxious body.

After Korra does a lot of work in her recovery, she still feels haunted by her trauma. She continues to relive the torture she endured, unable to find peace and live her life as she did before the events of season 3. She decides to face her fears and confront Zaheer (now in prison), hoping that if she sees him chained up she won’t see him as a threat in her mind anymore.

In a scene I initially opposed (why would Korra return to the man who did this to her?!), Korra faces Zaheer and confronts her fears, which turned the scene into one of my favorite of the entire show. It turns out that Zaheer is able to meditate into the Spirit World—something Korra has been unable to do due to her trauma—and offers to help guide her back there himself, to show her she has “all the power in the world and the freedom to use it.”

As she begins meditating with Zaheer, Korra is confronted yet again with a flashback of him torturing her. She begins to panic, her body feeling as though she’s in danger, but Zaheer encourages her to let the scene play out. She doesn’t think she can do it, saying she has no control, yet Zaheer continues to stay with her, telling her not to fear what might have been, but rather to accept what happened to her. Soon, she falls with him into the Spirit World.

Korra and Raava reconnect in The Legend of Korra

When Korra realizes that she’s made it through the most difficult part of her anxiety and landed safely in the Spirit World, she is reconnected with Raava, the spirit of light and peace who lives within the Avatar. After being poisoned by Zaheer, Korra feared her connection with Raava had been severed, but Raava immediately reminds her, “I have always been inside of you.”

When I took Eat Breathe Thrive’s “Yoga for Eating Disorder Recovery” course, I was reconnected to my own Raava. As I learned various skills to restore my connection between my mind and body, I learned that I had the ability to control my anxiety within me all along. With ujjayi breathing that activates my vagus nerve (the one responsible for the “rest and digest” part of my nervous system), and honoring the needs of my body through interoception, I could lower the effects of the CPTSD, if only by a little bit.

I’ve also learned, like Korra, that sitting in my discomfort and letting my fear and anxiety play out won’t kill me (even when it may feel like it will). My therapist taught me that our minds search for patterns, and when I was constantly trying to numb away the anxiety or distract myself from it entirely, I was actually making it worse. I was reinforcing that the anxiety was dangerous by not addressing it, building up the fear in my head more and more. When Zaheer tells Korra not to run from her fear, to sit in the discomfort of her PTSD and accept what happened to her, she finally experiences relief. She relinquishes control, does the uncomfy thing, and it starts a new neural pathway in her brain—a new pattern—that shows her that she is safe.

As my therapist reminds me, my anxiety will always be there, there’s no stopping it entirely. But I can make it more manageable, so it won’t interrupt my life so significantly. Korra reflects on this concept, as well, as she leaves Zaheer’s prison. She acknowledges that she won’t forget the awful experience of being tortured and poisoned, but she is able to accept what happened, and that’s what will make her stronger.

While I have done a lot of work around my fears and anxiety, I’m not at the acceptance stage yet. Honestly, until I saw The Legend of Korra (and talked to my therapist) I didn’t know acceptance was a stage I could reach in my CPTSD. There’s a lot of frustration around the trauma I endured over and over growing up. But I have learned how to manage the anxiety to be able to live my life, and I continue to build on these skills with every passing day, week, month, and year. What’s more, I’m finally at the stage where I can process the trauma itself because I am able to manage my triggers and anxiety. I’m proud of my strength, and how far I’ve come in the last few years.

I’m so grateful to have seen myself in Korra, and I hope that we continue seeing PTSD and anxiety represented realistically on screen.