Sophie Delancey / Toronto / 03.26.16
I was finally really cool with my body. After years of self-loathing and frustrating attempts to change its shape/size/colour, I just kind of accepted it, lumps and all. That doesn't mean I was always perfectly happy, but I was definitely more than okay with it on any given day, and I increasingly enjoyed what I saw in the mirror. I had been doing a lot of thinking around body positivity (or at least body neutrality) over the past few years, and my work as a sex educator and advocate got me looking at my body and seeing it as a vehicle for pleasure, exploration, and fun! It was hard to be so critical of my appearance when every hard-won element of self-confidence brought such good things. I started doing burlesque and realized that it was a really sexy way to be dynamic and in touch with my body, and movement was a big part of my relationship with myself. It felt like I had finally let go of a lot of resentment built up from failed diets, partners who weren't so nice about my weight, years of being told that I was not quite thin enough to be a dancer. My body allowed me to do the things I loved! It all felt obvious and simple.
On May 21st, 2015, I had a series of strokes caused by a completely random vertebral artery dissection, and it felt like I lost all connection with my body. At first I was just fighting to stay alive, but then came learning to walk, eat, drink, use my hands, do everyday activities... By the time I was out of my month and a half-long stay in the hospital/inpatient rehabilitation facility, I could do a fair amount of things by myself, but I had lost sensation to more than half of my body and gained a cane. Nearly a year later, it's still the case. Before the stroke, I worked really hard to get to where I was, feeling sexy and powerful in my own skin. Now, I have had to relearn everything. My physicality has completely changed because of longterm balance issues. I can't feel topical sensation from the neck down on my left side, and there is reduced/altered sensation on my right hand/side of my face as well, which means that my hands can't feel the world the same way. It also means caresses, massages, kissing, and even orgasms don't feel the same anymore. There are so few parts of me that can touch or receive touch like I used to. It feels pretty impossible to adequately explain how that messes you up, but it's even more difficult to get over it.
So, I'm working on it. Sometimes I get bogged down in thoughts of how I can actually embrace ideas like health at every size when I'm decidedly not healthy. It's been weird getting used to disability, chronic illness and exhaustion, when I used to pride myself on being so energetic and enthusiastic about everything. I'm not even 30 yet and I feel like an old woman sometimes. On the other hand, I've learned to be more gentle with myself and more appreciative of my life in general, since I could have died or at least had a much worse outcome. I'm still navigating what this means for my sexuality, but it's kind of exciting in a way to get to learn about myself and how I can either bypass or use these changes to my body. Don't have a stroke, but if you have to have a stroke, I guess use it as a way to get reacquainted with yourself. At the very least, I don't have the energy to worry about every minute detail of my appearance anymore. So it's not ALL bad.