Blood and Lipstick: My Body, My Wound Care

I am beautiful, even when I am bleeding.
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I was wiping off my lipstick the other day and I paused with the red stained tissue in my hands. For a moment I thought the lipstick looked like blood. Thing is, I’m so used to seeing my own blood, I found this moment more poetic than morbid.

Wound care has always been a part of my life. I was born with nerve damage that has had a huge impact on my body: I can’t feel over half of my body. I have issues with circulation, and the nerve damage makes it harder for me to digest food. I’ve been under-weight my entire life and have to work hard to get the nutrients my body needs.

Because of all this, I’m more likely to get hurt and when I do, it is more difficult for me to heal.

I have frequently cut or hurt myself in places I cannot feel and not known until someone tells me I’m bleeding or I see the blood on my clothes. Even though I can walk and move independently, the lack of sensation in my body means I also sometimes get pressure ulcers when I sit. I had to have a flap surgery to correct one of these ulcers when I was eighteen. The surgery required 60 surgical staples and two drains in the back of my leg. I spent two months on an air mattress in a hospital and afterward required months of recovery time after where I had to either stand or lay down. I stood at a podium in the back of my classes my first semester of college because I started school during my recovery.

In the past few weeks I have developed a new pressure ulcer on the inside of my thigh—something new and mysterious as I have never had a problem with this area before.

And as always when a new wound presents itself, I went through a period where I felt like I was a bad person for having a wound. I felt like I did something wrong, didn’t take care of myself properly, and that I deserved to feel less than human.

But then I acknowledged that I have the tools and experience to take care of myself and started the process of healing. Again.

Living with a wound is a strange and often exhausting experience. Of course, people around me don’t see the gauze, the antibiotics, the vitamins, the salves, the bandages. The blood, the coconut oil, the protein supplements, the worry and fear that the wound will get worse or become infected. The heartbreaking and infuriating knowledge that people have died from complications to pressure ulcers. But that’s my life every day with a wound. For months.

I’m grateful that aside from my having to dress my wound and be a little more particular about the fit of certain clothes, my wounds do not impact my life severely. I can’t go swimming and I stand throughout the day at work, even at staff meetings. I take a cushion with me in case I do have to sit, like at a restaurant or when I drive. I have a small outdoor patio chair seat cushion I can take if I’m doing anything outdoors and might have to sit on picnic tables or on the ground. But I just have to be honest with others and be assertive when doing what’s best for my body.

Thanks to a loving and understanding partner, my sex life is still vibrant and pleasurable. We have to adjust positions and be careful, certainly, but we can make it work, bandages and all.

For the most part, I can make adjustments and still enjoy my life, even with a wound. I have to say no to some things and I constantly have to make the best decisions for my body. But this doesn’t stop me from doing the things I love with the people I care about.

I didn’t always feel this way.

For a long time, I just felt disgusting. I felt like I was carrying a dirty little secret. I felt like I was faking my life. I felt a shame in looking fine on the outside, when in reality I had to apply layers of gauze to keep my body from weeping defensive fluids onto my clothes.

I felt like as long as I had an open wound, I could not, or should not, feel pleasure. I didn’t want to go to the coffee shop with my friends. I didn’t want to dress nicely. I didn’t want to travel or write books.

I can’t tell you when exactly things changed for me. It didn’t happen overnight, but I gradually came to a place where I find vitality and empowerment in taking care of my body.

My wounds made me develop a hyper-vigilance, or perhaps you might call it an obsession, for cleanliness. It used to be fueled by shame, but now, my shower is my sanctuary. It’s a place where I can forget about the worries of the world and feel relaxed, feel like I am an active agent in taking care of my body.

Caring for broken skin, open flesh, and blood has also given me a new appreciation for things like facial moisturizer, body butter, and lipstick. Lace-ups boots and cardigans. Jewelry, feminine. Delicate pearls or bad-&ss metal studs nested in the top of my ear. I am love all the ways I can dress up and take care with my body and appearance.

People compliment my boots, my necklaces, my lipstick. And I say, thank you, I love it too. I’m not hiding. I’m not keeping some dirty little secret. I am taking care of my body. I am nurturing myself. I am taking control, so that I will get better, even if the cycle will inevitably start all over in the future.

My wounds don’t dictate my body’s ability, desire, or right to feel pleasure. To dress up. To feel like a boss in my boots, to powder my lips with a matte shade that tastes like sugar.

I still feel pain, deal with fatigue, and worry. I have to take antibiotics to prevent infections and they can make me feel sick. I have to be careful. I have to spend my energy on taking care of my body even if that means cancelling other plans or writing less.

I’m dealing with all that now, but I am managing. I am feeling good in my body when my body doesn’t feel well. I am growing as a person when my body is healing. I am bringing my passion to life with the full force of my body, even when that body must rest, must breathe, must stop and take care.

Wound care is a part of my life. But it does not define my worth. I’m going to write and work and love and put on lipstick. I am going to take care—and I hope you will, too.

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