It’s Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK as I write this and the theme that has been chosen is ‘body image’.
It’s prompted me to think about the impact that sewing has on my body image, especially since having a mastectomy.
I find that I’m living in tension, between thankfulness that I’m strong and healthy and frustration at losing a part of my body that was such a part of my femininity. Its absence has left me feeling somewhat bereft. I’m fine when I’m clothed and hardly think about it for most of the day, but getting changed or just a random prompt or thought can trigger feelings of loss and frustration.
What bothers me most at the moment is that most of my clothes are loose as I’ve lost weight and am only slowly regaining. This also restricts my options for reconstruction as I don’t have much fat or excess tissue to use and I’ve chosen not to have implants. More on that another day…
What has helped?
Counselling has enabled me to understand my thought patterns a bit better and to accept how I’m feeling.
Living with a changed body for 4 months has shown me that it’s getting easier but that I still haven’t accepted what has happened and that there’s still some grieving to be done. I still feel angry sometimes but it’s becoming less frequent and tends to be worse when PMT strikes.
Choosing to see a different surgeon after some difficult experiences has been a positive step and has opened up a possibility for (partial) reconstruction that I’m still weighing up. Choosing to see a female surgeon who thinks creatively, assesses the evidence and communicates with authenticity and compassion made such a difference.
Sewing has helped a great deal, as it allows me to work with my body shape, highlight the parts I’m more confident about and balance the absence a little better. Having comfortable bras that also feel special has been important. The ones I’ve purchased are practical but can feel a bit like scaffolding!
I’ve gained strength and speed through weight training and running. This has been hard work but incredibly rewarding. My first run was almost 4 weeks after surgery and was short, maybe just over a mile. It gave me a huge sense of achievement and I ran my first race in 8 years earlier this month! This morning I ran a full 10k (6.2 miles), which felt amazing. I wasn’t sure if I’d manage it but am glad I persisted!
My goal for this summer is the Leeds 10k, which my husband and I are running to raise funds for Breast Cancer Haven Yorkshire,where I’ve received support through counselling, nutritional therapy and complementary therapies. I’d like to help ensure that others are able to access this too.
Hours after surgery, just starting to get my head around what had just happened
Today, after a long run in the sunshine. Sewing my own activewear has boosted both my body confidence and sewing skills! (The vest came from a clothing swap; the rest is me-made.)
What helps you to accept your body, build on its strengths and find confidence? I’d recommend this recent Clothes Making Mavens podcast episode for some useful insights and would love to hear from you.