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Apology to the body

| Tuesday, April 7, 2020

When I landed from my flight to South Bend in August, I felt a sudden sharp pain in my back, my shoulders and my neck. It was so shocking, it was laughable. And I did laugh! I’ve always been that way with physical pain … paper cuts, headaches, arthritis. Pain meant sickness and sickness meant death. It was frightening, but it also meant that I’d been alive this whole time. I was fascinated. Perhaps my body was responding to the stress of being at school? Perhaps I was just getting old? It was unbearable and mystifying.

For all of junior year, I couldn’t turn my head even a little bit without a feeling of being on fire. My roommate would literally rub pain cream on my back (that poor angel) and ask me if it were possible I had a fall I couldn’t remember. She and I would practice fixing our postures, I’d stretch every day and my RA even gave me her ice pack because she felt so bad for me. 

August … to April. It’s gotten better, or at least I’ve gotten used to it. What difference does it make if it’s better or worse? Pain is still pain when it’s dull. A quiet hum can drive you crazy like a fire alarm.

All my three years in college, my friends have known me as the person who does way too much. I’m always the last one to go to bed and the first one to wake up. Sometimes my roommates would go full days and nights without ever seeing me because of how little sleep I’d get before I was out the door again. I’d run out of flex points before everyone else because I never made time to sit down and feed myself. Or drink water.

I’ve had friends call me in the middle of the night or before the sunrise with “I really need to talk,” or “Can you help me, I’m locked out of DPAC,” or “I really need you to be a part of this project,” and I’ve dropped everything, every time, to meet them where they were. Sometimes I’d move so fast across campus, I’d feel like I was getting shin splints. 

And sometimes, most times, I’d turn my music way up, close my eyes and wish that I could just keep walking, past everything, past all the brown buildings and tree memorials and my jobs, past South Bend, past Indiana, past the future. Just to see how far I could go before a bear ate me or I got tricked into buying a timeshare or hit by a train.

I did a lot this year … I mean we all do, so did I really do anything at all? I overloaded on credits; worked two jobs; started a new relationship; starred in a show, then a musical, then another show; assistant directed Show Some Skin; applied to do a senior thesis; hunted for internships anywhere; made JPW a reality for my family. Any day I went without checking my email was another 100 new urgent replies to draft ASAP. I was constantly writing four papers and reading five books at the same time. I was promising breakfast, lunch, dinner with everyone! 

But I couldn’t give my all to any of those things. I’m hardly 5-foot-3. Hardly 135 pounds. Sometimes I’d pause for a second and notice how small my legs were and wonder how I could even keep my backpack on my shoulders. Sometimes I hoped it would crush me.

All the while, I didn’t realize that my body wasn’t mine anymore. I wasn’t eating. I lost 30 pounds. I was losing my hair. I got holes in my shoes. I never knew when I was going to puke next. My tongue burned. I had new spots on my face. I was seeing shadows. My depression, my OCD, my mind was a catastrophe, even on medication. And sometimes I just wouldn’t take it, because why bother?  I thought I was going to die at least once a week. And my back ached. Always. But it didn’t matter because on paper I was doing everything. On paper I was a great student, a great worker and a great friend. 

I want to apologize to myself. Because the body matters first. Without the body, there is nothing. Without the senses there is nothing to feel. Or at least there might as well not be. I’ve carried a backache with me all year, and for what? To prove I could? My body matters before my pride. And now, so much is lost because of a pandemic. This is living proof that the body matters. But it shouldn’t take a pandemic for me to realize that my body matters just like all the rest.

Theresa Azemar is a junior and can be contacted at [email protected]

Show Some Skin is a student-run initiative committed to giving voice to unspoken narratives about identity and difference. Using the art of storytelling as a catalyst for positive social change across campus, we seek to make Notre Dame a more open and welcoming place for all. If you are interested in breaking the silence and getting involved with Show Some Skin, email [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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