What I've Learned About Love From Having Muscular Dystrophy
I have "lemon girdle." Or that's what the three-year-old me called it. I remember gazing at the lemons hanging on the tree in our backyard, imagining them as womens' bodies, waiting to be transformed from ovals to hourglasses. Lord knows I wish that were all it was -- a cute little cinch-in-your-waist girdle, colored yellow and puckering.
Up until five years ago, each time I told someone I had it, the words stuck to my teeth like the trash snagged on the bars of the street gutter. At forty, I can finally say it without stuttering. It comes out almost smoothly, every single time.
Unless you see me climbing stairs, leaning heavily onto the handrail that lines the right side of the case, heaving my legs up one-at-a-time, I might be able to fool you. You might think I'd be able to hop on a bike and go for a Sunday ride with you or put on my tennis skirt to go "hit a few balls" or join your Tuesday night bowling league. If we spent a little more time together, though, you'd see. My pace is a bit more turtle, a little less hare; my ability to lift, more Wimpy than Popeye; my getting off the couch, more elephant, less gazelle.
The first time I felt different snuck up on me like a stealthy little thief. During childhood, I felt "normal." I didn't understand that my body was any different than anyone else's. It wasn't until PE became a regular class at school that I began to feel "different", a label I emblazoned upon my own little heart and wore for a very long time.
It's amazing how heavily our internal impressions of ourselves can weigh on our relationships with others, the same way our relationships can sometimes spill over too much into our self-perception. In my case, I wore this little albatross of physical difference around my neck for decades, feeling as if it made me undesirable and somehow unworthy of love. I hesitated to enter into relationships, not fully trusting that the man really wanted me, all of me, disability and all.
Here's what I've learned about romantic love (all love, really) from having a body that is "imperfect." And if you consider any part of you "imperfect" — which, let's face it, most of us do — this might help you to shake off the label you've worn and find love for you, flaws and all:
1. The more we own our "flaws", the more those "flaws" becomes loved.
Our mind can be a trickster. It can convince us that there is a part of us that makes us ugly and unacceptable. It can whisper to us that if people saw these parts of ourselves — really saw them —t hen no one would really love us.
But, here's the thing: that's just not true.
Our own perception of ourselves is so important. If we walk around thinking that there's a part of us that makes us unlovable, then we will find ourselves attracting situations and people that will confirm that for us. When we move from a space of damaged or unworthy, we block ourselves from being fully open to receiving love and acceptance.
By learning to own our flaws (emotional as well as physical), we begin to move from a space of wholeness and acceptance, and that's what we begin to attract, people who honor our wholeness and who are whole themselves.
2. Our biggest "flaw" is what brings us the most growth, and makes us the most beautiful.
Even Superman has his kryptonite. As a character, that's precisely what makes him more relatable, more likeable, more human.
Oftentimes, it's our flaws that bring us to our human knees and begin the road to transformation. They are our gentle reminders that we are not meant to be perfect. And that's OK.
The grinding stone that is our biggest "flaw" polishes our spirits into ones of strength if we let them. They can be great teachers if we choose to listen to the wisdom they have for us.
When it comes to romantic love, the depth often brought on by these "flaws" will make for a deeper connection with our partners if we let it. Because they offer us the opportunity to deepen ourselves, they then lead to a deeper sense of connection with those we love. Ultimately, they bring us to be comfortable with profound vulnerability, a quality that is necessary for any powerful relationship.
3. We are all lovable.
It is our essence that makes us lovable. Each of us is wondrous because we are here, experiencing this more-often-than-not beautiful thing called life. Perfection doesn't equal lovable; existence does.
If you feel like a part of you makes you unlovable, take pause. Listen to it. Move towards that belief and see what's really underneath it. Don't waste this opportunity to learn a great lesson.
And know, deep in your heart, that that belief is not true. You are lovable, flaws and all.
Photo courtesy of the author.