Lies My Body Tells Me

Lies My Body Tells Me (a list-in-progress):

x ray 11. I have cancer.
Why does my back hurt? Must be the tumor on my spine. Why are my hands so papery? Cancer sucking me dry. Why am I so tired? Definitely cancer.

2. Okay, maybe it’s not cancer but still, I’m dying right now.
It’s 1995 and I’m in a tiny classroom in Harvard’s African-American Studies Department. My professor, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., head of the department, is standing at the head of an enormous oval table carved of dark wood. He’s no more than eight feet from me and I feel the strength of his intelligence emanating from him like an electric power station: the air buzzes with it and when I breathe, it feels like I’ve swallowed something living. He has his arms crossed in front of his chest and he’s leaning back against the wall waiting for us, his select group of 15 or so graduate students, to say something interesting. My peers are jumping and thrashing like fish from a pool of water and I can’t get a word in edgewise, I keep trying to say something but I can’t figure out how to enter the flow of the discussion, and that’s when I have my first panic attack: it feels as if electricity is being poured down my throat until I am full, sopped and sweating, holding the edge of the table like an epileptic chomping on a piece of wood, gripping that wood as if it might ground me, the other hand clamped over my mouth because if I open it again, I’m going to vomit.

I’m sitting on the edge of the bathtub, staring at the air in front of my face. I have just found out my good friend Susan has died. Something inside me has just curled x ray 2up and withered like a slug in salt water. I am dead, I am no longer breathing; I am still sitting upright but I’m also floating, looking down at myself, waiting for my heart to stop beating. Outside that locked door, my husband is knocking softly. He’s holding our two-month-old daughter in his arms and my 6-year-old is standing next to him. The deafening noise of a wailing siren seems to be coming from my own mouth.

Premonitions of catastrophe extend to my loved ones: School has just gotten out and I watch my daughter run across the playground. She’s running fast, pumping her little arms, head tilted back with the pure joy of it, but I’m sure she’s going to fall and skitter and bleed. The hardness of the pavement slides through the soles of my shoes, trembles up my legs and grabs my stomach. If I had balls, they’d have shrunk to the size of marbles.

3. If it feels good, it must be good for me.
Just a little more red wine, please. Just one more of those and I’ll bloom like a giant pink dahlia, I’ll understand every secret, I’ll be whole again. And when I put the cigarette to my lips and inhale, it’s hot and thick and tasty, so much better than regular old air: it’s the air of the gods and I’m as fierce and powerful as a fire-breathing dragon, I’m a teflon femme-fatale. This is not unhealthy, it’s just the delicious damage one must inflict to tenderize a piece of meat. It’s a powerful weakness, a noxious medicine, and you have to tear it all down before you can build up, right?

(I smoked clove cigarettes for 16 years. I quit 16 years ago but still, in my dreams, I light one up.)

x ray 34. I can fly.
Of course I know I can’t fly: I’m not crazy, you know. (Insert smiley face here!) And yet, and yet, if I close my eyes (why do I always have to close my eyes to hear my body?) I can feel what it must feel like to soar with my arms outstretched, every inch of my body tensed to keep me up, upper. This feeling not the residue of too many Marvel and Zap comics as a kid or alleged teenaged experiments with various substances or many, many dreams; it comes from those places but also from my bones, from some deep and ancient part of my brain, it’s dormant in my muscles. As an undergrad at UC Berkeley, my apartment was right next to the infamous Barrington Hall, a huge, sprawling, derelict, graffitied, smelly, blaring co-op where all kinds of out-there fringe-type people crashed. During one of their “wine parties” a guy took some of the acid they passed out as party favors and jumped off the roof. He died, poor kid. But meanwhile, I was leaning out my window and thinking the same thing: If I wanted to, if I really trusted, I could step out into the air, I could float above impossibility.

Thank god I don’t believe everything my body tells me.

What lies does your body tell you?


This is the 6th entry of my series called “body talk.” To read more, go to  my home page to select.

About Anna Fonté

Girl in the Hat, aka Anna Fonté, is an author who writes about invisibility, outsider status, everyday monsters, and her attempts to befriend the neighborhood crows. The things she writes want you to look at them.


  1. My body (at least my surgically replaced left knee) tells me that it’s OK to slow down a bit. What’s the rush?


  2. Hi GITH, Great writing! You had me on the first 1. Why does – – –
    My body tells me lies – – – sweet little lies – – -.

    Tell me lies
    Tell me sweet little lies
    (Tell me lies, tell me, tell me lies)
    Oh, no, no you can’t disguise
    (You can’t disguise, no you can’t disguise)
    Tell me lies
    Tell me sweet little lies

    Yep, it’s telling me I am still in my twenties and I love it.

  3. You are me, or I am you. And that is why you are such a great writer. I am wrapped in your words as if they are my own. This most recent series, Body Talk, would make for a great book. Or a series of articles in Bust or Jane (is that still around?), or any other women’s rag. Seriously, you have a gift. Oh… this is what my body tells me.

  4. Karin

    Its kind of funny to listen to you talk about your body so poetically. I am a nurse practitioner and deal with it on a more prosaic basis. When people come in to see me with these confusing questions and mysterious ailments, it all gets dumped out. Sometimes its a big moosh pile of fears and confusion and ignorance. Your fears are part of it of course. I have to listen carefully to sift through what is fear and what is real. I appreciate it when people are in tune with their bodies, when they can tell me what is different and why it is of concern. Dr. Google is often not helpful. One person came in to tell me they had a sternal contusion and cardiac effusion. They didnt of course. Other patients become convinced after reading something on the internet and argue with me or colleagues about their diagnosis. Belief is often the underlying explanation of the illness. I have learned to ask how someone explains their illness, or fear of illness (which is sometimes what brings people in to see me). Their explanations are often elegant. Not always correct, but beautiful in their logic.

    • Karin– I am so happy you chimed in here. I’d probably want to argue just a bit with you too because contusions and effusions sound so… so interesting. I think we all want our problems to be special and rare and some of us love tragedies. It makes me happy knowing that my nurse practitioner might listen so patiently and with an appreciation if not a weakness for poetry and elegance. Thank you for reading!

  5. Todd

    Can you please write some crap for a change so I don’t have to keep stressing my feeble brain to come up with new adjectives of adoration for your awesome writing talents?! How about, I really dug the electric analogy stuff… damn good!
    My body doesn’t lie to me unless I’m polluting it with drugs, toxins or junk food. It’s my brain that misinterprets, ignores and lies. I’ve been a trail runner and marathoner for around 30 years and have spent many hours listening to my body. It’s an amazing nether world you enter into when you are running on the edge of exhaustion. Your body is sending a constant stream of communiques that range from a feather light flicker of euphoria to a grinding milestone of pain. Listening to them but also using your will to control and channel them is the game. If you you fail, you “bonk” or collapse. If you succeed you finish the race. Scott Jurek did a good job of describing it in his book “Eat and Run”.

    • You have a good point, Todd. And by now in the series it becomes apparent that I am using the word “body” to represent a whole muddy slew of concepts (instinct, subconsciousness, whim, etc.). I am not being very scientific, for sure. And wow, that running thing sounds amazing. The best I can get is a half hour on my spin bike. It feels great but what you’re describing is a whole ‘nother thing.

      Sure I can write some crap. Let me get right on it. (*wink*)

  6. Todd, I’m with you on the adoration (for day-amn sure!), and the distinction between body and mind (or ego) talking. And Anna, I had started to comment on this post a couple of hours ago, but quickly realized a whole blogpost of my own was coming through in response, so I had to stop everything, get out of the way, and let it through. Thanks for the always stimulating, always inspiring words, thoughts, and raw honesty. More to come soon on my blog! xxoo.

  7. macdougalstreetbaby

    My body tells me when it needs to move. I wish it would do a better job of telling me when to slow down.

    As far as number 3 goes, I don’t understand why it can’t be good for you. I believe all would be well in the world (at least my tiny part of it) if it were.

  8. I like your writing best when you reach inside and drag out the most horrible things you feel, like in Number Two here. I know that’s painful, but there you must continue to go.
    Lately my body tells me that even though I had an operation on my back, I still have a painful back that demands I live a much more sedentary lifestyle than what will ever suit me to live.
    Unfortunately, the bastard is telling the truth.

    • Sorry to hear about that back. Weird how trapped we can become in these cages of flesh. My friend would say that there’s a reason, that that’s why were here in these bodies, to figure out what they have to teach us. I hate/love when my friend talks like that.

  9. That it can stronger and younger if I really want it to. Last year, I believed it. This year I am working on accepting the age deal.

  10. I see a trend in these comments. I am at the age where my body has but one message to deliver to me: the pain (hands, wrists, knees, shoulder, etc. — it moves around) will not go away, so learn to live with it.

  11. I don’t know about my list, but reading your list today was pure pleasure….

    Wait. Now I’m wondering if I have a list. I’m a cancer-worrier for sure. Everyone in my family dies of cancer at some point, both early in life and late, so I know I’m more aware of the C-word than I’d like to be. Most of my real ailments tend to be much less dramatic, the general aches and pains of not being 20 anymore: creaky knees, achy feet, cold fingers, cataracts that move around and act up. (and see, just listing those few things makes me sound like my Grandma Ann! … may she RIP)

    • If someone claims to never worry about cancer, I wonder about them. Same with people who say they never fight or never lie or never overindulge. Either they’re lying or they’re made out of different stuff than I am.

  12. Number 1 is on my list. I’m always terrified that’s how I’ll die. And then terrified I’ll make it so by thinking that… Why do we do this to ourselves?

  13. i think we are so connected to this planet that we have have in us all memories of life, to fly and swim and run and all that wisdom of experience is some how within our bodies and our dreams. i watch a dog dreaming and know what he is doing.

  14. When I was twenty I was obsessed with the way I looked and worried about everything. Now I pay attention to how I feel and do not worry about much of anything but feeling right in my body. I gotta say it is a good shift of attention. I worry a lot less about things I can’t change.

  15. A term in psychotherapy – ‘craziness’. an idea for you. when one part of your brain says I know that person and another part of your brain sees another type of person.

  16. My body tells me I’m stronger than I actually am, so I go about blithely doing whatever I want and then it hits me afterwards. The first time I realized my limitations was in a place many metres above sea level in the mountains, just a few miles away from K-2. My heart hammered if I climbed so much as a few steps, let alone up or down any trails……I felt so betrayed by my own body.

  17. I also used to be believe I could fly. Come to think of it, I still believe I can fly 😉

  18. DeeDee

    Sometimes my body tells me that I don’t really need to sleep at all. It’s a dirty lie.

    It also likes to tell me that my ovaries are going to burst at any moment now (not entirely out of the realm of possibility, after a fashion), that I have no business riding in motorized vehicles, and that the Sword of Damocles is always dangling precariously near.

  19. My body lies to me and tells me that a perpetual state of stress is normal, that proper posture is bunched up shoulders. I know better, so I breathe deeply and practice yoga – but MAN is my body persuasive.
    Beautiful post. Just beautiful. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed. Well deserved.

  20. Despite all the best intentions of my writerly ego, sometimes I read something and think, “crap, I wish I had written that.” This is one of those times. Well done, this is beautiful!

  21. Veryyyy cool! I love posts about how our brains and our bodies interact. Love it. Very insightful!

  22. Also to answer your question:
    My body tells me I am fat when I am not
    My body tells me I am weak when I am strong
    My body tells me I am hungry when I am sad
    My body tells me I am not good enough, when I am AMAZING!

  23. wonderful , and I love the interplay of writing and illustration very , very much . thank you for the glimpses .

  24. I loved the part about the glass of red wine. One glass is probably never enough and your description of blooming “like a giant pink dahlia” was brilliant. Thanks!

  25. northernmalewhite

    “What lies does your body tell you?”

    That it needs some beer.

  26. My body (well, brain) does that weird thing when you get near the edge of a cliff. You need to get closer and pretend to jump off, or pretend to shove a close friend off if you’re up with mates. It’s a state of mind I have named, “Cliffhanger Syndrome”.

    My body also tells me, “YOU NEED HAIR BETWEEN YOUR EYEBROWS! GROW THAT MONOBROW!” No thank you, body.

  27. So sorry about the cancer. You are right about listening to your body and how it talks. Please take care of yourself and I look forward to more blogs from you!

  28. Beautiful writing. My body lies to me all the time, and tells me it’s NOT lying at all actually.

  29. Pingback: Lies My Body Tells Me | Maison Arsenal

  30. Love the X-ray pictures. Tony

  31. That left me purely speechless. Amazing

  32. My body tells me its in constant pain. Great post congrats on being freshly pressed. Thanks Angelia @

  33. I’ve had cancer. My body finds lots of ways to tell me to think it might have something since then. Docs say it’s only the first cancer still speaking, tell it to hush. But I never can. Thank you for your brilliant post. I can feel the presence of HLG… as well as your anxiety. Well written. Thank you, Renee

  34. Gabriela Teixeira

    During my first pregnancy, I used to have leg cramps that would come during the day, so I’d stretch the muscle, eat some bananas and that was it. On my second pregnancy, I wasn’t feeling them. But then I started to have a bad pain on my legs. Going to the doctor often I mentioned the pain to her, then she looked, asked if the legs turned red when in pain, or if they felt warm. No and no. So she would say: “Oh, it’s ok then, may be cramps.” But it didn’t feel like cramps. At all! It was pain. The muscles were in the right place, just hurting, So I started to over-think and I was sure I was at risk of dying during labor or after because of blood clots. I was SURE! Then on another visit, I complained again, she said the same about cramps and I replied back saying that it did not feel cramping. Then she explained that I was probably having the cramps during the night, not waking up because of them, and that pain was the aftermath of the cramp. I still was not convinced, until I finally woke up with the cramps. It was the only time in my life I was happy to feel a muscle cramping…. hahaha

    • I’m so used to doctors not knowing what the hell is going on that it’s refreshing to hear a story about how they know what they’re doing. And isn’t it funny (SAD) how low our can brains go? Thanks for reading & commenting, Gabriela.

  35. Beautifully written.
    I suffer from anxiety. My body tells me that I’m having a heart attack when it’s just afraid. It tell’s me to get out of a situation, it’s dangerous.

  36. suchstrangecandy

    I love this post. I got sick in ’93, with a set of strange, subjective symptoms that no one understood, and ultimately no one believed in, and so it went undiagnosed and untreated for a number of years, until they learned more, and realized I probably had legitimate issues. I’ve actually almost died a couple of times, because I didn’t know to make any noise about the level of discomfort I’d been feeling, and I’ve suffered lasting repercussions from all of this. These days, I still don’t know whether something bears mentioning, or doesn’t, I’m paranoid I may mention things too often. So, in essence, I don’t know how to trust my body at all!

    • I wish doctors were trained to be more open-minded. I’m sure this kind of thing happens all the time– when a person’s “paranoia” turns out to be real. Thank you for reading and for your comment.

  37. N.

    My body tells me:
    “Do NOT read health books.”
    … Because by the end of it I have like ten different types of cancers, with a lovely bout of insomnia at night where I would stay up for hours checking my body for moles and mistaking acne for tumours.

    Love this post. Your use of language is beautiful. 🙂

  38. This is so well written and a well-deserved FP.
    Your descriptions are gut wrenching and beautiful at the same time. Following!

  39. By the way, I absolutely love your taste in blogs! I am working my way through your blogroll and have already followed a couple..

  40. OyiaBrown

    Reblogged this on Oyia Brown.

  41. Beautifully, and most movingly written.
    I was very ill a few years ago, one of the scars is a weird hypochondria: i certainly don’t malinger over colds etc but unexpected aches and pains leave me expecting the worst.

  42. My body tells me it’s over, I’m old and restricted. I’m not, I’m 26 and my body is an absolute shit.

    Your writing is beautiful and addictive by the way.

  43. guychandler

    Was hooked from the first few lines and loved the sharp transitions. Beautifully written – followed.

  44. I don’t have anything of substance to add, but I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed this post. Good stuff!

  45. As one great man said in a movie that I loved a lot when I was younger, if real is what you can feel, smell, taste and see, then ‘real’ is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain. Everything is as real as you let it be.

  46. Wait. Did I miss 5? Or 6? I see
    body talk
    body talk 2
    body talk 3
    (body talk 4)
    Lies My Body Tells Me
    body talk 7

    Your blog, you can do what you want, of course, but I am just enjoying this series I don’t wanna miss one! 🙂

    Perhaps you are familiar with the idea that cancer is in all of us? Some believe that to be the case. Some believe that to think about it is to give it strength. I’m not sure my exact beliefs on that, but I do believe in positive thinking so I only think of cancer after I’ve eaten beets. Then I remember . . . . 😉

    • body talk 5:
      Lies My Body Tells Me was originally body talk 6 but for Freshly Pressed, the other title looked better.
      I guess #5 is a bit of a cheat, since it’s about another woman’s research….
      The idea that cancer is in us all is interesting to me, but I don’t believe thinking about cancer will awaken the cancer. I think we should feel free to go anywhere at all in our minds, the further the better, that this makes us stronger (and more creative and open-minded, etc.). If I have dirty thoughts it does not make me a pervert or a cheat and if I pretend to be Wonder Woman I won’t grow bulletproof bracelets– although maybe I’ll feel more powerful.
      What do beets have to do with cancer. Wait– do I really want to know the answer to that question?

      • Yeah, I don’t know that I believe the thinking about it, maybe it is more of a dwelling and dreading it than just thinking about it that people might believe encourage it? Not sure. The beet comment was a joke for me because my mind does not jump to things like that, but I know others who do. (Wiki: “Beeturia is passing of red or pink urine after eating beetroots or foods colored with beetroot extract or beetroot pigments”).

        And, thank you, I am glad I asked about 5 because I am still not seeing it where I am looking. So I will hop over now to read it.

        And – sorry about all the comments in one day, but I just found you! 🙂


  47. The body is a billboard for the mind. What you believe is possible automatically displays.

    Doctors told me I would need meds forever. Here I am without meds or illnesses. Optometrists told me my eyes would deteriorate. I’ve improved my vision every year so that very soon, I won’t need corrective anything. Physicians declared that because my parents have such and such, I am doomed to repeat history thanks to my genes. My body has manifested zero genetic illnesses and I am healthier than my entire extended family combined. Psychologists today would have called my childhood severely ADD, hypersensitive, and borderline narcissistic. I parlayed all of that into multiple successful businesses that I happily bounce between at will, uncanny intuition that always shows me the correct course to take, and a spectacular awareness of what I am capable of and worth. Case in point: I refused all treatments, tests, and rehabilitation following a traumatic brain injury and separated shoulder and healed perfectly in record time with only ice packs, stretching, and instinct-driven rest and movement. I ignore the news; I listen to me.

    Milk is good for you, milk is bad for you. Meat is healthy, meat is evil. Sugar is pure, sugar is the devil, then high fructose corn syrup makes evaporated can juice look like the second coming. Eight glasses of water a day is the lower limit, eight glasses of water a day puts one into imbalance. Alcohol is to be avoided, red wine at dinner lowers your chances of heart disease. Veganism is next to godliness, veganism makes you anemic. Diets are dangerous, you should always be on the current medically approved diet. What are the four food groups again? Now they’re a food pyramid? What’s next, the nutrient polygon? My weight lifting friends and I laugh our asses off at the holiest of holies, the BMI, which “scientifically” declares most professional body builders to be morbidly obese and many anorexics to be just right. All this scrutiny of external actions, bodily tissues, and the shape of our feces, and not one person is asking the only question that matters: Are you happy?

    Here’s an idea: get to know your body. Listen to it, do what it asks for, treat it with respect. Fall in love with yourself and ditch anyone who disagrees with your awesomeness. Watch life spread open before you like a warm June sunrise. Don’t be afraid to go against the herd, you’ll live longer.

  48. This is WONDERFUL. Today is my first day venturing forth into WordPress’s “Freshly Pressed”. I saw this title, was attracted by the title, and clicked on it. And this post was extraordinary — more than I could have even hoped for. Thank you for writing this so beautifully — for yourself, and for the world. It speaks to me personally and professionally, with heart, mind, and soul. Thanks again, Ann

  49. Al Kline

    You sound like my wife . . . she is always pulling out the Merck Manual to see what is wrong.

  50. You got Freshpressed, Anna–so happy for you. You know fame and riches will follow. Well, you surely will get a few more readers. “I knew her before she was famous.”
    Oh my goodness, after my sister died of cancer and then her ex got cancer (well truth be told it was earlier, but it got worse after that), every ache and pain and odd feeling and wee bit of indigestion and heart flutter became a terminal illness in my mind. Sometimes I feel that if I fully relaxed and enjoyed life and didn’t worry, that then something truly bad would happen.

    • Hey, TTD–
      Yes you are correct. No money so far, no limos or paparazzi. I keep looking up at the sky waiting for the confetti… but it was very exciting around here for a couple of days.
      Soon they will have to add Cancer Paranoia to the DSM, I think.
      Thanks for reading, Kevin.

  51. this is beautiful, smart, acerbic prose. thank you!

  52. RubySoHo

    My name is Ruby. I am here and I am listening.

  53. interesting post. I often struggle with comparing what my body used to be able to do years ago to what stage I am at now. This helped me to remember that I can appreciate where I am at now!

  54. Pingback: The Power to Change (Part 2) | Alarna Rose Gray

  55. What my body and mind tell me are sometimes two different things 😉

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