Body Baggage: Chronic Pain, Trauma, Aging, and Asexuality

This post is for the March 2018 Carnival of Aces on the topic of “Physical Health and/or Our Bodies.”

I don’t talk about my body much. I tend to think that people don’t want to hear it, and that the world needs more body positivity rather than contagious insecurity, especially coming from someone of average weight and relative privilege. But not talking about these things doesn’t make them go away, so for this one little post, since it’s on-topic, I’m going to try to stop ignoring my discomfort and examine it for a little while.

Fair warning: it’s mostly trauma and aging-related stuff, with some mention of racism. I’m not getting into weight or diets or anything like that, though.

Feel free to tune out now, but listen in if you want. Maybe a few people will find this relatable.

* * *

A dozen or so different thoughts about my body occur to me at once. They’re like flies—annoying, vaguely uncomfortable, but not vying especially hard for attention and honestly, thriving all the more when I don’t pay attention to them. They settle in, rather than being chased away.

I don’t address them. I have more important things to focus on.

The one thought that stands out above all the rest is, “Ow. My arm hurts. And my jaw too.” That’s not going away. I’ve been having this kind of pain on a more or less daily basis for a long time now, as a result of past injuries and, I think, some misalignment of my teeth, as well as a tendency to grind them at night. Sometimes it can get really bad, like to the point that I can’t use my arm, and sometimes it’s just a twinge, but rarely does it ever go away entirely. It’s been more on the bad end lately, since my hands have been taking more strain these past few months (due to factors I can’t control). I’m probably going to end up having to do physical therapy for it in the near-ish future. In the meantime, I try to manage it as best I can, and unfortunately, that means typing as little as possible… which is difficult, when you’re a writer.

I spend a lot of time being physically tense, because I’m anxious and on edge. Hypervigilant. It takes a toll. Mental health is rarely recognized as part of physical health, but it is. It has a huge physical impact on the body. It just isn’t easily seen or measured, so it tends to get ignored. The illusion of dualism is strong.

Honestly? I’d rather not be reminded that I do have a body, but I need to manage it or it will fail me. But maybe I should say that I am failing it, that I am failing myself when I don’t manage to treat my body with enough care and kindness.

It’s hard though, because I am not a good judge of what kinds of activities my body can actually handle. I get impatient with the healing process, try to do something that usually wouldn’t be a problem, and then end up re-injuring myself. A lot of times, because the things that hurt are basic tasks that are pretty much necessary to get through the day, it’s unavoidable that I’ll end up with a pain flare-up. I also tend to zone out for long periods of time, being totally focused on doing one particular thing for hours on end, and just… not notice that time has passed and I really need to go stretch. Most people tell me to set a timer, but even when I have a reliable one in front of me, I will forget to actually set it each and every time, and it only takes one missed timed break to mess up the rest of the day.

Yoga, which I find way over-emphasized as a remedy for mental illness, still tends to be a useful coping strategy for me that’s very helpful for reducing the level of physical pain I have overall. But it can also be tricky because I can end up over-stretching or getting into a posture I thought I could handle but it turns out… yeah, no. I’ve had to be very cautious with it lately and only do hands-free practices.

My baseline, when it comes to my body, is tension, discomfort, and pain. I wish I could be better at managing it. I’m trying to get better at it. But it’s hard. Low-key dissociating a lot means I’m often mentally a step removed from wherever I am and whatever I’m doing.

All that is not even taking into consideration how I feel about how I look, and how others treat me based on my appearance. I don’t have terribly bad body image or anything, and I know (intellectually) that I fit reasonably well within conventional mainstream (and racist) beauty standards. But I’m still rarely content with how I look and tend to notice the flaws more so than the overall picture, particularly with my skin, which is sensitive, prone to break-outs and itchy eczema flare-ups.

Lately I can really feel that I’m getting older, and experiencing body changes that I’m really not used to. They’re not even necessarily bad changes, they just make my body feel different and less like it’s really mine. For instance, I’ve had some weird mixed hair texture changes lately. Some of my hair has gotten much darker, wirier, and curlier—such that I would not even have recognized it as my own if I hadn’t found it on my head. Some of it has gone thinner and flatter. A few strands have gone white. It used to feel much more uniform. I’m sure I’ll get used to it eventually, but for now… yeah.

Meanwhile, people still regularly underestimate my age, as they always have throughout my life. I just kind of have a baby face, I guess, and I’ve always been petite. I know many people will tell me I’m lucky for having this problem, of course, but… the thing is, it interacts with my asexuality in a pretty negative way, since it’s frequently suggested or implied that I’m “immature” for being ace or that it’s something I’ll grow out of. Sometimes people’s guesses are so far off it’s really embarrassing, like when a few years ago a 14-year-old mistook me for one of her peers. I am glad that in this case, I didn’t have to be there when she found out I’m more than twice her age.

I think that my asexuality has an impact on people’s guesses about my age, because I do think I give off a sort of “ace vibe” to some extent, which leads to people guessing that I’m much younger than I really am. I also think that it can lead to people reading me as somehow more “innocent” or “pure” and less experienced than I really am—and yes, this is specifically a thing shaped by my gender, and by my whiteness too, not just my asexuality. All the ugly racist narratives about white women’s sexual purity come into play here. But I am not “pure” just because sexual situations aren’t the first thing that come to my mind and innuendo tends to be something I don’t immediately get. And I definitely don’t need to be “protected” from it.

I think, at the very least, I seem to have aged out of the general assumption that my ears are too delicate for any kind of talk about sex toys or whatever, which I still used to get all the time ten years ago. I’m glad for that. But I’m still getting some pretty exaggerated assumptions about my age, and honestly, I just don’t think my appearance alone is enough to explain it.

Asexuality also has a big impact when it comes to strangers flirting with me, which happens every so often and tends to lead to me feeling pretty uncomfortable in my skin. Well, when I notice that they were trying to flirt, that is. Or when I’m told that someone was flirting with me after the fact. It’s not really a big deal usually, but it is pretty disruptive sometimes. Most of the time it’s a minor disruption, but every so often (if, for example, the person somehow reminds me of my perpetrator) it can be triggering enough to give me a major anxiety flare or even a panic attack.

Just in case you are not already familiar with my trauma history from reading my previous writing about it, I’ll spell it out a little bit here: my trauma is inextricably bound up with attacks against my asexuality, because someone once decided that it was possible to “fix” me (or rather, more accurately, prove to me that I was “delusional” about my sexual orientation) through unwanted sex. So, everything that is a result of trauma or impacted by trauma, including my chronic pain that I discussed earlier, is also indirectly related to my asexuality. It’s all connected.

There’s one more thing contributing to my discomfort with my body that’s related to asexuality: Because I’ve been writing about asexuality here for such a long time, under a sorta-pseudonym, and have developed this pretty sizable body of writing that is the primary way I interact with the ace community… I feel like my actual physical body is pretty invisible, and inconsequential to most of you reading this. There’s a disconnect there, between my physical self and my internet self. To some extent, it feels like I only exist as text (or as a text) rather than as an actual person sometimes.

It can be pretty alienating, but I really don’t know how to bridge the gap there. I keep things separate for a good reason, so it’s not like I can just integrate my words with my body somehow, because then I would be compromising my privacy, which could then lead to further abuse. (I did make one exception once, when I was a panelist for FTBcon, but that hasn’t really abated the feeling in the long run.) It’s not like I especially want my body to be more visible online (or in general), it’s just an odd, kind of uncomfortable disconnect. I lack any kind of physical meet-up space or the funds to go to meet-ups or conferences elsewhere, though I think visiting someone else’s meet-up or going to a conference would probably be helpful. Maybe one day.

Anyway, this… I don’t know what to call it. Text-body alienation/disconnect? I guess? I don’t know, but this feeling tends to reinforce the low-grade dissociation that I’m usually already feeling, and highlight the feeling of invisibility that I already get from being ace—because I’m visible, but very much not at the same time. So, you know. Fun times.

There is no conclusion. These are all ongoing issues that change and stretch out along with me, and will only continue until my inevitably inelegant end.

For now, I’m just trying to learn to be kinder to my body.

So I guess I’ll wrap this up. There are some other things I thought of, but I don’t especially want to get into them and they don’t feel that relevant to asexuality. If you’ve read this far, I hope you found my rambling about my body baggage at least vaguely interesting.

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3 thoughts on “Body Baggage: Chronic Pain, Trauma, Aging, and Asexuality

  1. First off, thanks for writing such honest posts. I think rather than hamper a sense of body positivity, what you publish is the step before that: the space where one is flawed and can actually express that with some degree of safety. Sharing our own experiences hopefully helps others talk about it, right?

    As to your disconnect between online communities and real life… perhaps it’s also in part that online communities are simply not satisfying on the same level, too? I’ve had to come to the conclusion that my first foray into a romantic relationship basically broke down over my growing desire for the other’s body to be in the same room, I mean, just for company, even.

    And, unrelated, but: nominated you for the Liebster Award, my post on it is here: https://demiandproud.wordpress.com/2018/03/31/hello-sweetie/

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    • Well, I’m not sure if it’s a step before or not, since I kind of doubt I will ever feel super positive about my body. My joints are almost certainly going to only deteriorate as I age, and who knows what other joys await me, so ya know. It doesn’t seem like a realistic expectation to me, just something I “should” be trying for… because reasons??? I’m questioning why it’s considered ideal much more now than I was when I wrote this post. But yeah, I’m glad you appreciate it, and hopefully it helps others talk about it?

      And oh, definitely, that plays into it. Just like LDRs (which I find super frustrating as well), online communities aren’t that satisfying, compared to having a physical space… although, it really depends on the group, because some in-person communities I’ve been in are way less satisfying than the online ace community.

      Thanks for the nomination! I will have to take time considering questions for a while, haha. :)

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  2. Pingback: “Physical Health and/or Our Bodies” – Round Up Post for the March 2018 Carnival of Aces – From Fandom to Family: Sharing my many thoughts

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