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My Confusing Body Image From Living with a Chronic Illness and Daily Pain:
How does chronic illness effect a person's self esteem?

By Lisa Copen

Feeling less than "model material?" I'd have to say I am looking forward to heaven, because the first thing I'm going to do is collect on God's promise about giving me a new body. My new body is going to be athletic; it's going to be able to play a game of volleyball without embarrassment, to open ten jars of jelly without a single jar opener. My new body will be able to climb a flight of stairs without using a handrail, and I'm planning on doing it all wearing high heels (without orthodics!).

How does a chronic illness affect a person's self esteem? As an illness begins to enter into your life, it enters into your psychological being, as well as your physical being. Even when others may not be able to see the physical changes taking place, you know that they are there. Being in pain makes us more aware of our body in a way that an average person doesn't understand. You may find yourself asking, "What is what is weight loss in a illness? Will i lose the weight i gain on prednisone?"

According to the Mayo Clinic, a negative body image can be related to low self-esteem, depression, sexual dysfunction, poor health habits, and in certain cases, psychiatric disorders. It can negatively affect feelings, behaviors, interpersonal relationships, decision-making ability, and day-to-day living. Learning to accept your body takes practice and the understanding that there are some things about your looks you can't control. For example, prednisone weight gain prevention is a major concern to many people. For others, weight loss due to illness is their biggest issue. When we have an illness, we are faced with having to continually accept the changes; oftentimes, changes that we didn't think we would face until we were older (whatever age older is!)

"For most of my life I have been overweight," shares Miriam Roush. "Then 14 years ago I made a whole-hearted effort and lost 25 pounds to reach my goal weight. Then, seven years ago I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. I began taking an antidepressant to help with my sleep difficulties. The drug, the fact that I can't always exercise, and that I sometimes eat for comfort from my pain, has caused me to gain over twenty-five pounds. I don't feel very good about my body anymore. I am beginning to lose the confidence in myself that losing weight had given me. I haven't given away all my "skinny" clothes because I tell myself that someday I will get back in them but in my heart I know it would be such a big battle and I just don't have the energy for it!"

If you are unhappy with your body, you aren't alone. Psychology Today magazine recently polled 4,000 readers in a body-image survey. As reported in the magazine's January-February 1997 issue, 56 percent of women and 43 percent of men surveyed were dissatisfied with their overall appearance, and two-thirds of the women and over half of the men were dissatisfied with their weight. Many want to lose weight because of their illness and its effect on their body.

Are we too concerned with how we look? The apostle Paul warns us not to put too much focus on it. "Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach...Their mind is on earthly things" (Philippians 3:19)

But he also tells us to look forward to receiving our new body. "We eagerly await a Savoir from heaven, the Lord Jesus Christ, who by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body" (v. 21).

There are days I look in the mirror and think, "Honorthis body? Does God really expect that?" I am at home with my body, and yet also at war with it. How can I be expected to honor it when it has turned against me so aggressively? The point is this: I Corinthians 6: 19-20 says "Do you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own. You were bought at a price. Therefore, honor God with your body." The body is not really mine. Yet I am still responsible for how I treat it until I get to turn it in. It's sort of like leasing a car, only God's already paid the sticker price.

Linda Krueger shares her experience. "I think my body image has become better in that I've been forced to become acutely aware of it. On the other hand, wearing high heels would be nice but the last time I did my feet were in pain afterward for days! It's hard sometimes to find clothes that don't cause more pain but still look attractive. But I think I've reached a point where I really don't care if I'm wearing the latest fashions, as long as I'm comfy!"

It's easy to get caught up in the world's standards, especially when it comes to our appearance. Psalm 139: 14-16: "I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be." Our body was fearfully and wonderfully made, woven together by God himself. That should be enough for us to know that we are perfect. We all need that reassurance.

Get a free download of 200 ways to reach out to someone who is hurting from Beyond Caseroles: 505 Ways to Encourage a Chronically Ill Friend when you sign up for hopenotes, a monthly ezine. Author of this article, Lisa Copen is also the founder of Rest Ministries and National Invisible Illness Awareness Week.

If you enjoyed this article you may also like
What Happened to My Self Esteem?
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Our "Life" Section on Self-Image





Don't forget! This article can be reprinted for free or syndicate Lisa's new articles.