A couple of years after open heart surgery, CALM writer Guy Heywood shares a momentous shift in how he and others now see his body, life-changing scar and all.
There came a point where I started to ponder what would happen when I met someone new and the conversation would turn to: “so what’s been going on with you?” How would I start to talk about my surgery, where would I begin and at what point do I start or stop talking about it? I was anxious.
I felt the need to explain enough of the operation for them to get an idea, but I didn’t want to delve too deeply into the decision making process and all the angst I felt; it’s a lot to go into and I was very conscious of the conversation then becoming all about me when I wanted to have a conversation on equal terms.
For a while after the operation I didn’t bring anything up with random people I met through friends and at parties. I managed to steer the conversation away from me by putting the attention on them. If I was asked how things had been I would answer with “yeh, all good. How about you, what’s been going on?” and so forth.
There was also the conundrum of how to approach the subject with anyone I would potentially start dating. As things progressed I felt the need to warn them that I had a large scar down my chest and chose to do this when it would come to a point that it might be seen. I’d put a slight pause on things and say “just so you know I have a large scar down my chest from an operation” and left it at that.
It bothered me greatly, it would be an interruption at any given moment and I felt very conscious about my appearance and whether it would unnerve, shock or scare someone. it’s not like I can hide away from it.
I decided it was best to approach the subject with a little bit of information and explain that I’d had open heart surgery but that it was more than a year ago and emphasise that I was fit and well now. What quickly became apparent was that the subject could not be left alone and, understandably, they would be inquisitive. I was happy to talk about it and felt comfortable enough within myself to do so, I was just very conscious of how I may come across and also when to put a stop on the conversation.
This decision of when to tell them played on my mind constantly. I wanted to get some advice and thought it would be best from a female’s perspective so decided to speak to my sister and explain my concerns. She pointed out that I should behave as if it’s not there, don’t bring it up and carry on as normal. If someone reacted in a negative way when they saw the scar, they weren’t worth bothering with. She also pointed out that she thought it would actually be a turn on for most women and that I now had an extra asset so I shouldn’t be shy and should just relax. “You don’t know what anybody’s thinking,” she said.
I had come to a level of acceptance within myself about my new body image but I was trying to preempt what other peoples’ reactions and possible concerns would be instead of allowing things to just be.
I had come to a point where I looked in the mirror and I didn’t see a scar all the way down my chest. I was so used to it I just saw myself as I was. The scar had healed and was now a part of me, no different from looking at my hand for example, and that’s ultimately the way it is, no need to make something of it.
So this is how I have been ever since, carrying on as normal as if there is nothing to look at or bring up.
This change in attitude has brought about a huge sense of comfort, self-acceptance and emotional release. Everything is normal, not only with my body image but mentally as well. By releasing the internal and then outward pressure I was putting on myself I have been able to feel more confident in my appearance and carry on like everyone else.
I didn’t realise the full benefits of this change in thinking until I went away on a seven-week holiday in Australia, Thailand and Cambodia. There were many occasions when I was on the beach or in groups of strangers and would have felt very conscious about my appearance previously; timid to the point of leaving a t-shirt on, and yet now I didn’t with this simple change in attitude.
I found that by acting as if there was nothing abnormal about the scar on my body (which there isn’t) I have been able to carry on like everybody else. Every time it was brought up, if it was brought up, I would be more relaxed and I found it was better to allow people to come to me rather than for me to put it on them by bringing it up as I had done previously.
People are in general very accepting of a situation or scenario and the only person who was getting torn up about it was me. I had invented a huge burden for myself which was completely made up and now I could let that go.
There are so many different shapes, sizes and colours to us all as human beings, and I still fitted perfectly within this group. I just needed to remind myself of that.
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