My Body Knew My Limits — Even When I Didn’t

Read this reflective narrative about how important it is to trust your body.

As an American living in London, Jessica was thrilled when her mom shared she was coming to visit. She made big plans to make the trip special — only to end up having to cut them short due to health issues. Here’s how she learned the importance of listening to her body in the process.

Let me tell you about my most recent “failure.”

I live in London, England, but I am originally from a small town south of Chicago. My parents still reside stateside and because of this, I don’t see them nearly as often as I would like to.

At the end of June, my mom surprised me and my husband by announcing she would be coming to visit in mid-July. I was ECSTATIC. Though my father would be unable to accompany her, I was so grateful that she was using her limited PTO to come and see us.

I wanted to try to make her visit as special as possible, so once her flight was booked, I began bombarding her with questions.

Where do you want to eat?

What do you want to do?

Where do you want to go?

She only had two requests: eating dinner at Ed Sheeran’s pub, and a day out with me dedicated to shopping

This was PERFECT. The small pub was only a 30-minute walk from the largest mall I’ve found in London. Meaning, we should easily be able to cross off both requests on the same day!

I ended up making the reservation at the pub for 7 p.m. on the second to last day of my mom’s trip. In my mind, this would give us enough time to sort through my closet, a task that desperately needed to be done before inevitably adding new items to my wardrobe, and give us an extra day at the end of the trip to relax and wind down.

From the minute my mom touched down in Heathrow to the minute she boarded her plane home, we were busy. As July is Disability Pride Month and I work as a disability advocate and creative, I’m always extra busy with work during this time of the year. This week in particular, I ended up having several meetings, a video shoot, and my own content to film while my mom was in town. Whenever I wasn’t working, I was trying to spend every waking second making my mom’s visit special.

We took a train out of the city to visit a seaside town at the weekend and walked around the entirety of Hyde Park, one of the biggest parks in central London, to enjoy the surprisingly nice weather.

It was a very full-on week.

By the time Wednesday arrived, we were both completely exhausted. But, the big day had arrived. I prepared myself mentally for the day ahead and we headed off to the tube station.

Unfortunately, no amount of preparation was going to equip me physically for another full day out of the house. 

After popping into just two stores, I began to feel sick. As in, if I didn’t lay down ASAP, I was going to vomit all over the racks of gorgeous clothes before me. We made a beeline for the grocery store down the street and I spent the next half hour sipping a ginger ale in the frozen section, trying to cool down.

I have gastroparesis. It’s a rare stomach condition that makes it difficult to digest food. At the minute, my condition is fairly controllable. But, sometimes, when I am really stressed out or trying to do too many things, my body decides to shut down.

On top of this, I grew up with a rare condition called CHILD Syndrome. It affects one side of the body with skin, limb, and sometimes organ deficiencies. In my particular case, this condition has left me with a shortened arm and amputated leg on the left side of my body. So, I have spent my entire life using either a wheelchair or prosthetic leg to get around.

Growing up, I never let anything hold me back. I would tackle any challenge put in front of me just to prove to people that I could do it, even if I hurt myself in the process. It didn’t matter if I caused irreparable damage to my joints, as long as I wasn’t a burden to my family or myself, everything felt like it was going to be fine.

Part of the pleasure of being visibly disabled includes random strangers giving you unsolicited advice and praise while you’re out living your life. Several times throughout my childhood, I would have people come up to me and quote Phillipans 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” and other similar mantras. 

Their point was that I should never give up because God only gives people challenges that he knows they can handle.

As an adult, I now know the true meaning behind Philippians 4:13. The Bible isn’t telling us to push ourselves to every limit imaginable. It’s telling us that God gives us the strength to do the things that might seem particularly difficult to accomplish.

Including listening to our bodies and having the self-awareness to know when it’s okay to say no.

Sometimes saying no and giving in to our bodies’ limits is more difficult than just bucking up and tackling a task head on. There is so much vulnerability in the word no — externally and internally. Externally, you might have to contend with the judgments of others or being passed up for future opportunities. Internally, you are up against FOMO, regret, and self-inflicted negative conclusions. 

But within that vulnerability, there is also power. You are essentially standing up for yourself, advocating for your needs, and setting boundaries. These aren’t easy things to do and they take much practice, especially when living in a society that glorifies hard work.

Since being diagnosed with gastroparesis in 2020, I have had to learn how and when to say no.

And still, I felt like a terrible daughter when I eventually had to ask my mom if we could go home so I could rest and recover. After all, she only asked for two tiny little things.

But when we got home, she reminded me what I already knew deep down inside.

If we had stayed out, then I wouldn’t have been at my best. And if I’m not at my best, I’m not just hurting myself, but those around me too. Therefore, it’s always best to take care of yourself and trust your body. 

Because as long as you’re doing that, you’ll never really be a failure.

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