Jamie's Blog

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Finding Myself, The Hard Way

A few years ago my husband and I went on a tropical vacation with some good friends. I looked forward
to adventures in food and culture, world class snorkeling, and requisite beach lounging. I dreaded,
however, the big reveal—the unveiling of my post C-section, post-lumpectomy, post-menopausal, lop-
sided, and droopy form. This was in sharp contrast to the other wife who descends from Peter Pan:
she doesn’t age. At 50 her skin was as smooth and unwrinkled as her tummy was tight, and she looked
fabulous in a bikini. Not only did I not wear a bikini, I shrouded myself in "figure-flattering" sarongs.
A few days later I looked through the photos from that trip, and searing shame cut a swath through my
heart, self-hatred boiled in my veins.
I hated myself? Moi? I am a psychotherapist, for crying out loud; self-esteem is my job! Clearly I was
not where I thought I was . . . or who.
I turned to an old friend who had learned a thing or two about self-esteem when she lost her foot in
a car accident. I lamented that even when I was young and Cindy-Crawford-thin I had always felt fat
and uncomfortable in my body. “I know exactly what you mean,” she exclaimed. “I was the same way,
always thin and pretty. I just wish I had been there.”
How much of my life had I squandered wishing and wanting to be something else or other? For what, to
find acceptance in the eyes of people who were likely seeking the same from me? I knew better than
that! I also knew that diet and exercise were not the answer, because I had done plenty of both, and here
I was. I vowed to myself (whoever that was) that come hell or high water I would figure out a way to love
my elusive self.
Little did I know that hell and high water would arrive in the form of a second breast cancer: bilateral
mastectomies with immediate DIEP reconstruction, seven surgeries in all; and that was the easy part.
Flashbacks to childhood abuse erupted weeks after the surgery and suddenly my quest for self-discovery
took a turn down Alice’s rabbit hole. Surgery had given me a girlish figure, a bikini body that was
meaningless to me now as I fought my way through PTSD.
Month after month, one battle after another I seized all of my courage, anger, and intelligence to give—to
myself—good things, the way I gave them to everyone else.
Things like mercy, patience, and genuine regard. Eventually, one new choice at a time, I proved to
myself that external changes never heal twisted beliefs. This hellish journey was a crash course in
choosing to believe . . . myself.


  1. Wonderful blog Jamie. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Jamie, I completely get it. I actually have a blog post about feeling like "Sally" from Nightmare Before Christmas"!

  3. I am LIVING your ordeal! With multiple complications and 15 days in the hospital after my bi-lateral mastectomy, I too am going through PTSD counseling. I have felt overwhelmed. Your story made me feel less alone. Thank you.

  4. Wow – how sneaky is body perception when it turns sour. Just the other day I hesitated before wearing my ‘one side flat’ bikini in public and revealing my lack of a right breast. It is an effort to love our bodies, that’s for sure. Thank you for sharing your story - I guess it’s never really about the body, but about our own self love, and you’re so right about that ‘one choice at a time’ . . .

    1. Catherine, thank you for your kind words. It's funny when a story like this touches someone; being glad seems stupid, since it would be so much better if you couldn't relate! It's a sorority no one should join, in which too many of us have a life-time membership! Let's cancel our !@#$%! memberships and find the exit door!

  5. Jamie,

    Thank you so much for sharing your voice and your story. I think it is critical for those of us in mental health to remind ourselves (and others) that we're not exempt from all the hard stuff--and we're not supposed to be. I'm guessing that you're even better with your clients because of your own pain. You are amazing for turning your struggle into a gift for others. I hope you're getting great support, each stop of the way.