What I See When I Look in the Mirror
I’ve always had problems with seeing myself for who I am. Yes, I recognized my image in the mirror, but an eating disorder, body distortion, and a lack of self-love as a teenager and young adult led to a skewed image.
It wasn’t until I hit 40 that I started to see myself without a critical filter — and I came to appreciate the woman who was looking back at me. For the first time, she looked upon me kindly and with satisfaction, without repugnance. We had a decent relationship, me and the woman in the mirror — our relationship became more forgiving and trusting. And then, at 42, a few days after an extended hospital stay due to a bout of severe pneumonia, she left, and another woman replaced her.
There’s a point when you’re fighting a severe illness that you stop caring about little things. The concerns about what I wore or whether I had my trademark eyeliner on were replaced by questions: would I be able to walk to answer the door if the doorbell rang? Would I be home from the hospital in time for Thanksgiving? Would I be coming home at all?
I’m not meaning to be dramatic. It was only at my sickest that I started to realize that what’s really important comes into sharper focus as your body is giving way to the great unknown. And your appearance is one of those things you discard, making the people you love and the experiences you’ve had the only things that occupy your thoughts.
There was one moment, as I tearfully looked out the window from my hospital room, that the thought crossed my mind that my death seemed like a strong possibility. And I realized: I have had a great life. While there’s always a wish for more time, I was satisfied.
When I started to get better, after a three-day excursion in the ICU and high doses of steroids that made me feel as though I needed to be peeled off the ceiling, I at first retained that focus: my family was everything. Being home at Thanksgiving, a celebration of gratitude, felt most appropriate. I glowed in the warmth of my husband and children — incredulous that I had been returned to them.
I remember the first time I saw her — the new woman in the mirror.