As I am…

Zenkoji Temple - Nagano, Japan

I don’t know if I’ve written about it before. But for the longest time – as long as I can remember, I hated myself.

I hated 100 different things about the way I looked, walked, ran, worked, thought… you name it, I hated it.

I would say all to frequently that the only thing I liked about myself more often than not was my hair… and because of my Crohn’s treatment, that would fall out in big clumps… so I had some darker moments.

I went to Japan at the start of 2017 – it was my second visit. My first was in 2007 where I became mysteriously ill. That was 3 years before my eventual diagnosis. My preparation for Japan was not ideal. We’d been through a redundancy in the months before and the trip would financially strain us. By the time the redundancy was announced I’d already paid for 80% of the trip – which would have been non-refundable. After I’d healed properly from my EPS and been discharged from cardiology I started looking for work. It was at that point I suppose, I realised how badly I was being underpaid at my current job. In the months leading to Stockers next appointment I was offered two jobs on the condition I cancelled the trip. The first offer was for a position closer to my house for a wage $30k more than what I currently earn, the second for $26k more than I earn. Now – that’s a big difference and probably a good indication of how badly I’m being taken advantage of. Knocking back these jobs was the easiest, hardest decision I’ve made in years. At the time I thought it was just going to be a holiday I may never get again – but something happened in Japan… something that’s changed me at a very grass-roots level.

It was a rainy day in Hakuba, we’d looked at the forecast weeks ahead and picked that day for our “Snow Monkey” tour in an area closer to Nagano. We walked to the bus – and were soaked by the time we arrived. It was a pretty typical tour which traditionally I loath. You may have figured this out, you may not have… but I hate been lorded over, being told where I need to go and when I need to be there. The stops were crowded and the other people on the tour were pretty rude… I enjoyed the destinations, but the group itself, no. It was a clear reminder why we do our own touristy things.

Zenkoji Temple - Nagano, JapanThe last stop of the day was Zenkoji Buddhist Shrine – located in Nagano city. I’d actually been there the day before on my own whilst roaming around Nagano. This time was a little different though – we had a Japanese speaking tour guide who was able to explain the history and the rituals to us. At the start of the tour we were asked to join a group – group one was people interested in the “path of enlightenment” a ritual inside the inner sanctum of the shrine where you followed a totally dark path to find a totem hidden in a hole in the wall. So. I’m not good with dark, tight spaces. I’m a proper claustrophobe. Instinctively Stocker walked to the other group – who would not be doing this activity. I dragged him back over to group one. He looked at me confused… I exchanged that look with one of terror. What on earth was I doing? I had no idea. During the lead up to the inner sanctum I had that sick, anxious feeling welling up in the pit of my gut. I really didn’t want to do this, but… I did at the same time. It was such a strange feeling. We reached the point of no return where we needed to purchase a coupon for the inner sanctum… I already had the change out… I was really doing this… and I had no idea why.

I’m going to be honest with you… I’ve let myself fall over mountain lips to ride to the bottom, I’ve jumped off every high thing I could, ridden every thrill ride I could… I done plenty of stupid things in the years since realising what my morality meant. But walking along this path was truely the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done. And without hesitation I just… did it. Every second I could hear my heart beating in my chest… my breathing was loud and laboured in the confined space…. but onward I went… feeling my way through the passage until I found the totem… I found it… with all my terror and anxiety and apprehension… I found it and I held it… and then I went on.

Exiting the path is meant to represent “rebirth” or “renewal of spirit”. I’m not religious – but I do have a keen curiosity for religious practices. I participated in this ritual because I wanted to know what it felt like. You can dismiss what I’m about to say next as hokum – I encourage everyone to in fact. Do your own research, attend the shrines, mosques, churches yourself… feel the atmosphere, talk to the people. Don’t take my experience as gospel. I exited that tunnel and thought “well I don’t feel any different, but I’m glad I did it”, I didn’t realise at the time but that experience had changed something – about me. It was over the next few weeks I started noticing my mind was working differently… little things – like… looking in the mirror in the morning and not being repulsed by what I saw… not going to extreme lengths to hide the Sweets Syndrome scaring on my arms and chest… no longer wearing baggy clothes to hide my big weight variations. I had started this journey… this journey of not hating myself anymore. It wasn’t until this moment in the change rooms at Guess that I Zenkoji Temple - Nagano, Japanrealised that that experience in Japan had flicked some kind of switch in my head. I was trying on a black dress – the same one as my tiny sister. I walked out and she said “as soon as you loose that bit of extra weight you’re carrying that will look fantastic!”. She was looking at something different to me… because I looked in the mirror and I saw something that was already fantastic – flawed, yes, no doubt. Overweight? Yep, a little bit… but still fantastic. Despite that discussion – I bought the dress and fully intend to wear it before I have lost that little bit of weight she was talking about. I can’t explain what’s happened, or why. I don’t know if it was the shrine or just my time in Japan as a whole. I can’t tell you if this is just a time in my life that things start making more sense…. I can’t tell you anything… other than I’m on this journey to a place where I don’t hate myself anymore… and it’s good.

Do I hate being sick? You betcha. Do I hate what it does to my body? Yes, it can be limiting some days. Am I ugly and gross? No. I am allowed to be proud of more than “just my hair” or my awesome eyeshadow blending. I am allowed to be proud of me. Stripped down with nothing on, with nothing to hid behind. I’m happy in my own skin wearing my scars that tell my story. I have never felt this way before and I don’t think it’s a temporary thing – it’s been months now and I still feel this warm, comfortable feeling.

I feel very lucky. Because as bad as it sounds, how many people in todays day and age can say they don’t hate themselves…?

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