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The Skin I’m In

By Kellie Purcill

There was a click, like bending a toothpick, then a sting as sharp as a cut green apple. I sat on the kwoon’s mat floor to look at my foot, where my left little toe was proclaiming nine o’clock while the other toes insisted twelve.

Taking a shaky breath, I raised my hand. “’Scuse me, Si Fu,” I called out to my instructor, “I think I’ve dislocated my toe.”

I had. It hurt. It re-dislocated twice more before it was properly strapped and bloomed a gorgeous range of purples two days later. But I finished my two jujitsu classes right after it happened, limped my steel-toed-booted way around work for a day, and now – nearly a week later – am looking forward to tomorrow’s class. My toe is slightly pudgy and wonky, but otherwise recovered.

Recovered, and a reminder that the body is an astonishing phenomenon.

For the past thirty odd years I’ve been surprised and delighted by what my body is capable of. My body is the vehicle that has taken me through each minute of life, and carries some mementos of what I’ve done (the quiet scar on my face, the blush and moonlight coloured tidemarks on my belly) and also proclaims where I have come from (red hair from my grandmother) and what I do now (muscles from work and martial arts).

A year into my nursing degree, I’m constantly astonished at how complicated the body is. The interaction of the different systems and pieces, and how powerful the mind and spirit can be when it comes to health, life and death. That people in comas ‘hang on’ until their child arrives from across the country to say goodbye, and the heart’s cacophony of welcoming a new child into the world is evidence of something more than mere physical placement and happenstance. A body is what I – the ultimate definition and fullness of me – am wrapped in, and is a part of who I am.

Then there is emotion, feeling, sensation – all of which add further dimension, fullness, mystery and experience to life in a body. A shudder of pleasure, a wrenching cry, a flare of resentment and insolent shrug all are committed with a body, and are the more intense for the emotions behind them. I’m not sure that experiencing pleasure and pain intellectually or emotionally would be as intense if it wasn’t for my body’s own intrinsic understanding and experience of the same, kind of like someone who has never been heartbroken telling a dumped friend “It’s not that bad”.

Skin, joint, sinew, bone, heart, blood, squishy bits, home. While I hope to never see my toes at such perpendicular disagreement again, it’s been a surprising reminder of the sheer fragility and stunning majesty of the skin I’m in.

So, how’s the skin you’re in? What physical mementos have you got of where you’ve been, what you’ve done, where you’re from and what you’re doing? What do you like about having a body? Is there any poetry, prose, picture or personal event that to you captures our bodies’ fragility and majesty?

About Kellie Purcill

lives way on the other side of the planet in her native Australia and gives thanks for the internet regularly. She loves books, her boys, panna cotta, collecting words, being a redhead and not putting things in order of importance when listing items. She credits writing as a major contributing factor to surviving her life with sanity mostly intact, though her (in)sanity level is subject to change without warning.

15 thoughts on “The Skin I’m In”

  1. I love this post–thanks Kel! One of the things I love about yoga is that same sort of message–accept and appreciate your body as it is and what it can do for you in that moment.

    As for mementos, I embrace my scars and my grey hairs. There is a story behind each scar–what made it and how the skin came back together. (I'm sure there are stories behind each grey hair as well.) I figure it is all part of my mortal experience and I learn something new–something that connects body and spirit–with each one.

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  2. Ah. Skin. That's where my story was for so many years.

    In seventh grade I contracted chicken pox. After they were no longer polka-dotting my body with fresh sores, pock-marks remained permanently in three places on my face. I felt the fragility of life as I looked in the mirror and saw how two weeks of disease could change my face forever.

    But the discomfort of my skin has a longer story, so I apologize now for the long comment.

    I have had eczema since I was two years old, mostly on my ears, neck and insides of my elbows and knees. But also on my scalp, my lips and then after pregnancy, my entire body except my feet (yay for feet). When I was a teenager I realized my "rash" would flare when I was emotionally stressed. I could seem totally fine in every other way, but if I was worried about something my eczema wod be worse. The problem on m lips was especially bad when I was sixteen.

    I used cortisone creams and tried to follow doctor's suggestions. None of which worked. After I got married I discovered that pregnancy and my skin didn't work well together. The atopic dermatitis became so severe I couldn't move in the mornings, I got skin infections repeatedly and I could barely function as a mother or wife.

    Priesthood blessings, acupuncture, herbs, healing water, every type of lotion and ointment our money could buy. Special treatment from England, wrapping myself in cellophane, tar baths, diet manipulation, etc. were the things I did to find relief from constant burning, itching, oozing, flaking. The years went by, another son was born, the promise that I would be healed in time finally came, but not until my first perfect baby girl suffered from the same horrible disease that sapped all the joy out of my life. It broke my heart to see her suffer. For two years, her whole babyhood, was suffering. Finally, relief. Finally a medicine that took away the itching and stopped the flaring. Finally an allergy diagnosis (to wheat) that made a difference. Ten years of my life were gone. My three babies only knew a dep

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  3. knew a depressed and incapable mother. My husband, bless his heart, still loved me.

    And today, Protopic is a "black-boxed" medicine that causes cancer, but it saved my life and my daughter's life.

    And I love Yoga too for all its life lessons!

    Thanks for listening.

    Great post, Kel.

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  4. I immediately thought of this beautiful poem, which speaks to me about the many sacrifices a mother makes to bear children. Sometimes I complain about stretch marks and sagging and extra padding, but these words remind of the physically sanctifying experiences I enjoy, as well.

    Seventh Child
    Sharon Price Anderson
    Ensign, Aug. 1999, 52

    Sarah would laugh
    to think that I feel old,
    yet understand better than I
    the longing which gives you life
    and overcomes the logic
    that it has been too long
    and six is sufficient
    for seed as dust and stars.
    Is it your desire
    to come to earth
    that makes me willing
    to give you birth
    and further fulfill God’s promise?
    What blessing will you bring?
    What mission will be yours
    in this Saturday of time,
    you who are Sarah’s increase
    as well as mine?
    Could I have kept completely
    my mortal purpose and
    consecration’s covenant
    without you?
    Sarah knew much of
    altars aging,
    offspring waiting,
    missions and promises.
    Now as we grow and wait,
    she would teach us also faith

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  5. My patriarchal blessing talks about how long I waited for a lovely body to house my spirit. I've been thinking about that lately: about how long we all waited for these lovely bodies, and how Satan uses both bold and sneaky tactics to make us hate them. The truth is, even if we were to have the most broken body, one of the eternal purposes of earth life is still fulfilled, and so I'm working to convince myself that this almost-forty year old body is lovely.

    In some ways I love it more now than I ever have. I love that my legs are stronger than ever, that I can run longer and faster than I ever ran when I was 18 and thinner. I love that my arms and hands are practicing piano for hours a day and creating beautiful music. I love that my body has brought four beautiful children to the earth (even if I don't love the resulting soft tummy.) I hate to admit that I often am disappointed that I don't look like modern media says I should look. I hope that as I grow to love and respect my body more, I'll be OK with no longer looking like my 17 year old sister.

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  6. The body is, indeed, miraculous.

    I am not young; I am not a super-model (never was); my knees point in; my boobs point out (and downward now); my toenails grow up; my fingernails grow down; my eyes see cloudily, my ears hear softly.

    But I can smile; I can walk (and run, if you use the term "run" very loosely); I can see and hear and smell.

    I like me. I thank heaven for giving me my skin.

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  7. I too, am constantly amazed at what my body can do. I know it is a miracle. The enjoyment it brings from hearing a bird sing in the morning, to seeing the sun rise, to tasting a fresh strawberry, to feeling the soft curls on my 2 year old daughters head, to smelling the complex smells of the burrito I had for lunch.

    I have small scars from gallbladder surgery from 7 years ago. I'm grateful for those scars because my mom showed me her scar from her gallbladder surgery that is HUGE! She had hers removed about 50 years before mine. I love how technology has improved so much that our scars can be small.

    I'm getting older and while there are more creaks in my joints, sun spots on my hands (eek! I'm turning into my mother!) and gray hairs, I enjoy my the skin I'm in and I'm so thankful for it.

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  8. My patriarchal blessing refers to my strong,healthy body 3 times and tells me to take care of it. The last several years I have had on and off back problems and I have had a hard time feeling like my body is very strong and healthy.

    When my body is working the way it is supposed to I am so grateful for it and I guess when it is not working the way it supposed to I am even more grateful for the small miracles my body accomplishes every day.

    I remember one experience I had a couple months after recovering from one of my miscarriages and D&Cs. I was finaly getting back on my treadmill. And it felt so good to be moving and working my body that I started crying.

    With all my body's imperfections I am still so grateful for it and I know I need to do my best to take care of it.

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  9. I kind of hate my body. I feel very disconnected to it. I feel like yoga is more about spirit than body, and I wait for the day my body will be perfected. It is because I have a life-long auto-immune disorder and birth defects that even after 4 laproscopic IVF surgeries, I stil can't have children. I cannot wait to shed the skin I am in, it often feels a bit too heavy for my spirit to carry.

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  10. Lovely post, Kellie—so lyrically written.

    I have a quite a large scar on my left wrist, a reminder of an accident I had in cooking class at school when I was 14. Because I cut my ulnar nerve in that accident (as well as nine tendons!) I don't have the full use of my left hand. But it's been so much a part of me all these years that I hardly notice. Each of my scars is a memory, a map of where I've been.

    As for gray hairs, I'd rather not have those.

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  11. It takes conscious effort in this world to feel comfortable in your skin. I can't say that I fit 100% but I settle in a little more as I try.

    Having a child taught me about the beauty of my body in a way that counteracted all the titillating and demeaning messages about women's bodies that I had unconsciously ingested. Beginning to exercise after age and childbirth turned things to mush taught me about the mind body connection. Now I exercise more for sanity than my waistline. For several years I struggled with health issues, and last year it relented. It seemed that what I needed was to accept a large calling (faith) go to physical therapy (works) and rest for my body to heal itself. As I age and gain a little wisdom I can't hate my body, it is the home of my growing spirit and without it my spirit could not progress.

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  12. Let's see … there's the split lip and pock marks on my face that have never bothered me a bit, although my mother always felt bad that she hadn't been able to protect me from those childhood scars. There's the white U-shaped scar on the side of my ring finger caused by a broken glass in the dishpan — I am fond of that scar because of the memory of my big brother coming to my rescue when I screamed bloody murder. There are the puncture marks on the insides of my elbows from donating blood just like my dad had always done. There were the reddish highlights before my hair lost its color, which I can trace through a particular line of ancestry. There are the failing eyes which I can trace through another ancestral line. And now there are the darkening green veins and the increasingly crepy (that's crepe-y, sisters, not creepy) skin that make my hands look more and more like my mother's every year.

    I don't need tattoos or cosmetic piercings. I have legitimate body art.

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  13. The truth is, even if we were to have the most broken body, one of the eternal purposes of earth life is still fulfilled, and so I’m working to convince myself that this almost-forty year old body is lovely.

    I'm working on this, too. Chronic illness is hard for me in the sense that sometimes I feel at war with my body, because I feel it keeps me from being the me I used to be — active, athletic, up-and-at-em every day.

    But then I try to remember that I'm becoming a better me, albeit different, while having to learn to accept where I am rather than fight it. Spirit and body are where fullness of joy is found, not with body alone, and although I know that's resurrection doctrine, I think it can still apply in mortality.

    But it's a place that is still pretty tenuous for me at times. I want both of those parts of me to be at peace more than they often are.

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  14. Loving the comments ladies!

    Johna – I <3 Melonie's essay. I wish I HAD posted it!

    Dalene – 'appreciate your body as is and what it can do in that moment'. Love it.

    Sage – Thank you for sharing your story. I'm glad Protopic exists so it can help you and your daughter!

    Heidi – thank you for the poem, it's been in my head all day.

    Kerri – 'In some ways I love it more than I ever have'. Agreed.

    Aundrea – your compass point evaluation of your body made me laugh – I think we are sharing the same directions!

    Paula – your 'eek' made me laugh as well. Oh, the humanity!

    Heathermommy – 'And it felt so good to be moving and working my body that I started crying.' I hope you continue to feel better and strong.

    JB – my chest hurt reading your comment, so stunningly put: 'I cannot wait to shed the skin I am in, it often feels a bit too heavy for my spirit to carry.' Can I send you a hug?

    Melissa M – that would have been an impressive class stopper!

    Jendoop – 'Now I exercise more for sanity than my waistline' – many women I know feel the same.

    Ardis – liked the crepey vs creepy clarification, but most of all loved this "I don’t need tattoos or cosmetic piercings. I have legitimate body art." Beautiful.

    Michelle – 'I try to remember that I’m becoming a better me, albeit different, while having to learn to accept where I am rather than fight it.' So true.

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