A Toronto Transformation

Blood Clots and Body Confidence

thigh-high compression stockingsMy relationship with my body took an interesting turn when, at 19 years old, I had the incredible good fortune to survive a pulmonary embolism.

I was diagnosed with chronic DVT, a blood clot in the deep veins of my left leg too massive to operate on and tested positive for a clotting mutation called factor V Leiden.

I remember at one point during my time in hospital telling the nurse helping me clean myself and wash my hair while I sat awkwardly naked in a wheelchair, hooked up to an IV, how I’d always been self-conscious about my calves, but in contemplating my grotesquely swollen mass of a leg, now they didn’t seem so bad.

I didn’t know at that point my leg would never be the same. The swelling did go down, but the damage to the veins was permanent and the clot running from my calf to my groin is, of course,  still there. To attempt to operate and remove it would mean a good possibility that some of the clot could break off and make its way back to my lungs and kill me, or become lodged in my heart or my brain and kill me.

So. There it stays.

Leaving me on good days, uncomfortable, and on bad, in pain.

There are little complications, and big ones.

I can’t run or crouch and I have to wear an uncomfortable tight thigh high compression stocking every day to keep the swelling to a minimum and to try to minimize the steadily growing damage to the surface veins of my leg.

Pregnancy would be high risk at best, unsuccessful or fatal at worst.

It’s an irritatingly constant reminder of my mortality and adapting to it has been a challenge.

I don’t know if every cloud has a silver lining, but if this one does, beyond the fact that my life did not end that day 19 years in, it would be that a potentially fatal condition does give a person a fair amount of perspective.

It made me think more about my body as a vehicle, as a temple, as a tool, and in doing so, it relieved some of the pressure I felt to make it look a certain way.

Taking my walker-assisted first steps out of the hospital made me more focused on what my body could do, and the exhaustion I felt taking just those few steps made me determined to do whatever I could to ensure that I get to feel healthy and strong for as long as possible.

It made me recognize in a concrete way, what a glorious privilege it is to be able to walk. To just get up, and effortlessly move yourself across a room suddenly seemed like the most miraculous thing. Suddenly I had no time to worry too much about what my body looked like and I was forced to focus more on what it could do, and how I could take good care of it to keep it running as smoothly as possible for however long I’m lucky enough to live in it.

Of course, it hasn’t stopped me from scrutinizing my body with a less than kind eye now and again, but that shift in focus has been a really powerful thing.

So my advice to women when they find themselves dissatisfied with their looks is to try  your damndest to shift your perspective. Think about the amazing things your body can do besides fit into your skinny jeans. Think about the way it feels, and what you can do to make it feel better.

And then? Stop thinking about it. Put your energy and your brain power into something outside yourself.
Because there are people who stand to gain from you being miserably preoccupied with your looks, but honey, you’re not one of them.

This post is part of the Love Your Body link-up hosted by the lovely Alicia of Jaybird and Rachel of Tossing the Script. Pop on by their blogs for links to more posts about loving your body.

18 Responses to Blood Clots and Body Confidence

  • Rob says:

    Great post! Your perspective and response to life’s challenges helps inspire this haggard old man to make the most of his abilities.

  • Shannon says:

    This is a great perspective. I go through stages where I exercise a lot and other times where I do absolutely nothing. I tend to feel better about myself when I’m exercising, but part of that is because when I’m running or doing yoga or whatever, I’m always amazed at what my body can actually do.

    I also read this great comic once about how being beautiful is primarily so that we can attract someone and mate, and it ended with, “Be something other than beautiful, you don’t need to mate today”. I thought that was a fun reality check, when sometimes it can be SO easy to focus on what we look like above all.

    • metamorphocity says:

      That’s a great quote! I tend to feel better when I’m exercising steadily too. Partly because I really love feeling strong and energetic, and partly just from that steady dose of endorphins. Love it!

  • What a powerful story. Sometimes it does take a monumental shift like this to make us appreciate our bodies. I gained a whole new level of respect for mine and what it can do after I gave birth. Now THAT power is beauty!

    • metamorphocity says:

      No kidding! I’m really fascinated by pregnancy. One of my good friends gave birth recently, and although I am squeamish about some things, I always want to hear every little detail about the process from beginning to end anyway. It’s just incredible to me what women’s bodies can do!

  • Wow. Sarah, I’m so sorry that you went through that, but you are a powerful storyteller and I’m glad you chose to spread the word about DVT as well as your personal experience. It does often take a radical event, whether it occurs in our lives or those or our loved ones, to shift the focus from the body’s form to its function. I generally feel happy when I think about what my body can do (or what I can work towards doing!) whereas thinking about what it looks like is when discontent can rear its ugly head. This is a great point: “Because there are people who stand to gain from you being miserably preoccupied with your looks, but honey, you’re not one of them.”

    • metamorphocity says:

      Thanks Alicia! And thanks again for hosting this little link-up. I loved reading other women’s stories and perspectives on loving their bodies.

      I think that last point is so good to remember. It’s so important to look at what’s behind the external messages we receive telling us we should not be content with who we are and what we look like. Sadly, that force is often corporate greed.

  • Wow, wow, wow. I am absolutely BLOWN away by your story.

    I was 19 when I had my pulmonary embolism as well – isn’t that just… crazy?!

    For me, the clot formed in my lungs and I had SEVERE pain for DAYS. Went to see 5 doctors – none of them could figure out what was wrong with me. (As you know… it’s a rarity to have someone so young develop this ‘condition’.) I couldn’t sleep at night. I just cried. From both the pain and the extreme frustration of not knowing what the hell was wrong with me. Off I went to the emerg, through a simple BLOOD TEST (WTH doctors?!) they found out that I, too, had formed a blood clot (multiple, actually, all in my lungs) and tested positive for factor V… which later resulted in finding out that I had not one, but two copies of this lovely gene and was placed on warfarin for life.

    Sitting there in the doctors office, seeing the look on his face when he saw my scans, telling me not to move or walk or go anywhere because the likelihood of me dying was pretty high was shocking, to say the least. (And also brought this insane feeling of calm… another story for another day, haha) I mean, I was 19. I had hardly LIVED.

    I just want to reach right out and give you a MASSIVE hug – I can’t tell you how happy I am to have find your blog – your story – YOU! (And holy crap… how can we both live in Toronto?!)

    Your blood clot is still there? Are you still on medication? Do they think it will dissolve? (For me, I had to give myself injections in my tummy for a week + switching to medication, which they said dissolved the clots… although I still get horrible stabbing chest pain from time to time which remains unexplained.)

    Sorry for my enthusiasm and curiosity but god damn! We’re rare gems! Hahaha

    • metamorphocity says:

      So crazy! Most of the people who can identify with this are over 50! I’m so sorry you went through that and that you’re stuck on warfarin for life. I had multiple clots in my lung too! Thankfully the blood thinners dissolved them.

      They expect the one in my leg to just be permanently there, unfortunately. They took me off the blood thinners once it seemed like the clot had stabilized a bit but I’ve had to have the stomach injections a few times since. I get SO nervous every time I have a twinge of pain in my lungs.

      A big hug right back at you! We should form a club!

  • natalye says:

    Pretty scary–I am going in next week for the factor V Leiden test because one of my parents is a carrier, so I am a bit anxious. But your story is inspiring, especially that you can change your point of view. It’s kind of amazing how much our bodies do for us, and how many of us simply take that for granted.

    • metamorphocity says:

      I hope your test went well! If it turns out you do have Factor V, at least you can actively take some measures to protect yourself from clotting. I really wish someone had thought to test me before putting me on hormonal birth control!

  • Sam says:

    As always, your writing blows me away. Such an important perspective to have and so glad you’re alive and well to share this story. On a smaller scale, I often feel a real appreciation for my body whenever I struggle to swallow something because of my esophageal atresia. It’s great to remember how awesome our bodies are. PS. Your barre legs are gorgeous and strong!

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