The first time I met my old landlord Sarah, she was getting ready to drive from Seattle to San Francisco. Her dog was wearing a compression harness called a Thunder Shirt. “It’s for anxiety,” she explained.
I’ve been wearing my own Thunder Shirt nearly every day for more than two years. It is the residue of a surgery. In the spring of 2010 I had a breast reduction.
I’ve never written those words publicly. And I speak of it only on occasion. Only to a small, trusted circle of friends. As transparent as I am, I have been remarkably private about this. I believe that is shame.
Shame for altering my “body on loan” – a term used in Judaism, referring to prohibitions surrounding tattooing and piercing. I’ve come to embrace this concept as a way of honoring my physical self. And I wasn’t sure that I had done that.
Shame because my work as a bodysherpa is to help people “fall in love with their bodies, take care of their bodies, and do things they never imagined possible.” It says so, right on my website. I made that promise. And I wasn’t sure I had done that either.
Shame because I wasn’t sure whose rules I was following. Who I did this for. Me or my mother? Shame because I wasn’t happy after the surgery. I was confused, depressed, scared and uncertain. And I felt I couldn’t speak of it. No one, It seemed, understood. And when I did talk about what I was experiencing, I was met mostly with blank stares.
Besides, I had chosen this. I had “brought this upon myself.” And as a result, I inflicted a mostly “silent suffering” upon myself.
I had questioned the surgery up until the moment I was transferred from gurney to operating table. I remember waking up in the recovery room – crying. The nurse asked me why I was crying. “I don’t know,” I said, and fell back asleep.
I cried when I woke again. But the nurses were tending to another patient.
Intellectually I knew that this was likely the result of anesthesia. I had had a tough time with it before. The doctors knew this and did what they could to temper its effects. But my recovery was difficult anyway. I didn’t leave the hospital until 7:30 p.m. that night. I was just too nauseated to stand.
I lied on the bathroom floor pulling on my clothes so that we could go home. My then-husband walked in. “What are you doing?” he said. “I’m trying to get my pants on. And the cool floor feels good.”
He didn’t ask any questions.
The days that followed are still hazy. A single yogurt lasted several meals. I couldn’t eat. I lied on my back in our darkened bedroom, whimpering. Friends called. First question: “Do you love your new boobs?” Only tears. I don’t recall the rest of the conversation.
My surgeon was visibly surprised by my reaction. One of his nurses said she had heard of this on occasion. I found a single website that affirmed my experience. I was grateful because it meant that I wasn’t crazy. I wasn’t entirely alone in my thoughts
But mostly, I was. Alone with my shame, guilt and remorse.
I couldn’t look at myself for weeks. Not because of the scarring or bruising – even though I looked like I had been run over by a truck. But because I wondered if I had betrayed myself. Betrayed G-d.
Worst of all, I didn’t think my breasts were small enough. So even when I was cleared to wear a “regular bra,” I continued to wear a compression, sports variety – my ThunderShirt – nearly all the time.
I grew to love my new breasts. To have a new relationship with them, my body and myself. I felt more in alignment. In proportion. More congruent. I felt like Dr. Galliano had done a pretty great job. That he was, in fact, an artist. But I was still wearing my Thunder Shirt most of the time. Until it was all I wore. And I felt uncomfortable, naked and insecure without it.
Until last Thursday.
I bought a new dress. It has a diamond-shaped piece of fabric cut out at the top. My ThunderShirt pokes through it, so I can’t wear it. I looked at the bras I had bought, hopefully, after the surgery. Small. Lacy. Pretty. Pricey. Woefully under worn. I slipped into one and put on my dress.
I called my friend Pam. She tells me, only half-joking, that I’m never going to get laid if I don’t stop wearing the ThunderShirt. “No one knows,” I say. “Trust me, they know.”
I left her a message. “I’m wearing a regular bra…..”
Something shifted. I knew in that moment it was time to “out myself.” To drop my ego and share my story, so that perhaps one day someone else who has this experience might know. To let go of the remnants of my shame. For it was apparent I no longer needed it.
I’m not done with the ThunderShirts. They still feel safe, comfortable. And I like how I look in them. But now I know I have options.
Fingers crossed on the getting laid part.