This blog post has been in the works for a long time. Although I've already addressed this topic, I find that it is an issue that continues to come up when talking with my new amputee friends. That's right, I'm talking about sex (again).
I have yet to meet a new amputee who hasn't struggled with issues of body image after limb loss. Although females verbalize their concerns more, I have spoken with a number of male amputees who admit to struggling with the same issues. Unfortunately, the fears are always expressed in hushed whispers, somehow implying shame.
Perhaps bringing these issues out of the dark and into a public forum will help to alleviate the shame and isolation that is often associated with these feelings. Because my amputation was planned and I had time to prepare, I assumed that I would not encounter body image issues. I was wrong, and I felt unprepared and completely alone when the feelings arose.
Cognitively, I knew that I was not defined by my limb loss. I knew that I was the same person with the same heart, hopes and dreams. More importantly, I knew that Scott loved me as much with one foot as he did when I had two.
Logically knowing that I was the same person is not the same as believing it. After my amputation I remember looking in the mirror, staring at the new reflection, and crying. I didn't recognize the "freakish form" staring back at me. It is a horrible feeling when you are repulsed by your own reflection. Feeling sexy, or having sex for that matter, was the furthest from my mind.
My wardrobe for the first 18 months after my amputation consisted of ankle length skirts and dresses. I removed every full length mirror from our house, and I looked away when I saw my reflection in store windows. As much as I tried, I just could not help perseverating on the fact that I was missing part of my leg.
Incidentally, I was also getting married during this time period. I doubt that anybody, with the exception of Scott and perhaps my mom, knew how uncomfortable I felt with my new body shape. I did not enjoy shopping for my wedding dress, and I feel sad when I remember how ugly I felt on my wedding day. I dream of doing a "wedding do-over" someday so that I can feel like a confident and pretty bride.
I wish I could outline a "body image acceptance" path, but I know that the road to self-acceptance is different for everybody. For me, it took time. If you ask Scott, he'll tell you it took a whole lot of time.
In an odd way, I had to work through forgiving myself. Although I wasn't to blame for my amputation, I harbored a lot of self-loathing because of it. I felt that I shouldn't have problems with body image, and that something was wrong with me because I couldn't just "get over it."
Scott found me sexy regardless of my amputation. The issue wasn't him; it was me. When someone doesn't feel desirable or sexy, it is difficult to be sexual. Patience and open communication is essential during this time period.
Eventually I began to acknowledge that I was having issues dealing with my amputation. Feeling worthless and ugly, I petitioned my insurance adjuster to seek therapy. I knew that I needed help to deal my mounting body image issues. I was promptly denied with an explanation that the since the amputation was my "choice," the emotional ramifications of the surgery were also of my choosing. My self-loathing was only solidified, as was my belief that I must be the only amputee to be experiencing this turmoil.
At the urging of my mom, I spoke with my general practitioner about my feelings. He responded by handing me a depression questionnaire . After reviewing my answers, he confirmed that I was depressed, but also classified it as "situational." D'uh ! I could have saved my $15 co-pay and his quiz by coming up with that diagnosis. He prescribed "getting my nails done" and taking time to "pamper myself" in lieu of therapy or medication. Unfortunately, his "keep your chin up little buckaroo" approach only served to devalue what I was feeling.
There is truth in the saying that time heals all wounds. As I learned to live with my limb loss, I slowly became accustomed to my new body shape. I began to forgive myself for feeling ugly, and I began to verbalize the insecurities. The more I talked with Scott and my friends, the less shame I felt.
I have little doubt that, had I had other amputees to talk to, this struggle would not have been so difficult. Knowing that my reaction was normal, that I was still normal, would have validated my emotions and eliminated the sense of isolation. As amputees, we need to put a voice to these feelings. Verbalizing these emotions is the first step towards self-acceptance and a full emotional recovery.
- I am a below knee amputee. More importantly, I am also Mommy to two boys, a very active 10 year old (Robby) and an mischievous toddler (Timmy). I have learned that being a parent with a disability can create some unusual and sometimes humorous situations. This blogger is available for hire! Let's talk and learn how a blog can expand your business.