I don’t know about you, but I feel the least empowered and strong when I feel poorly.
Fitspo, Crossfit, athleisure wear–all this contributes to this society that is all about pushing ourselves to the limit physically and celebrating those who can be the strongest, fittest, and skinniest. The weight loss industry is booming, and shows like Revenge Body and The Biggest Loser are cultural phenomena. I, myself, became part of that when I lost 80 pounds. I used Jillian Michaels DVDs and the website MyFitnessPal to shed the weight, and I frequented message boards and Tumblr pages.
So what do we do when we can’t be a part of these communities? What do we do when we long to exercise and push ourselves physically but no longer have the energy, the stamina, or the mobility/flexibility to do so?
I felt the best I had in years when I lost that weight. I was off some pain medication I’d been on for my knee pain, and I was getting to sleep without the aid of prescription drugs for the first time since high school. I’d started all that (the DVDs and YouTube workout videos, the Couch to 5K app, and the careful measurement of my food) after my CFS came back with a vengeance after I completed my master’s degree. I knew I needed a way to combat it, and I’d heard that managing through diet and exercise had worked for some people. I decided to give it a try. As I watched the weight come off and my strength go up I became obsessed in my spare time with reading about fitness, weight loss, and nutrition. I read motivational blogs to keep up my spirits, and I participated on MFP’s community boards to get advice when I’d plateau or was thinking about trying something new. It was amazing, and I felt so good!
After my back injury at the height of my fitness and in the middle of my weight loss journey, I had to take time off. I felt like I’d done something wrong and was being punished for being too ambitious. I’d put my health first, and my PhD was second. Was this karma? For the first time I had a very serious relationship, so of course not everything could be going right in my life.
Since then I’ve been trying to figure out ways to claw my way back into a fitness regimen. Since I’ve been working full-time it’s been next to impossible. I can no longer go for a Pilates-cardio-swim triple sweat session and take that two hours out of my day. The same exercise session would take me much longer, as my stamina and strength isn’t what it was. Especially since I’ve started this elimination diet my body struggles more through exercise, and I’m just more tired all around. It doesn’t help that my feet hurt 24/7 as though I’ve been working retail for 12 hours on Black Friday while wearing a 40-pound backpack…
Talk about not feeling empowered.
So what can I do to regain that feeling of progress and achievement when I have physical limitations? I try to focus on the small things. Getting out of bed and going to work. Actually putting on that make-up. Doing what I need to do after work and going to my various therapies. In the fitness realm, it’s now taking a walk during my lunch break. I upgraded my FitBit to one which buzzes every hour to remind me to get 250 steps. I save my Instagram, Facebook, and personal email time until then, and I find these short breaks with a double reward make me much more productive. In Pilates, I go for a few more push-ups, and I recently completed my first all-jog 5K. (It was ridiculously slow and nowhere near my split before I hurt my back, but I’ll take it!) My friend also introduced me to Habitica. There are daily goals, and I’ve modified mine to include things like “survived the morning” and “took morning meds”–little things to in some way celebrate the little triumphs and acknowledge that I did get through the day.
However you feel empowered, I urge you to keep doing that. Your progress may not be back to where it was when you were younger, fitter, skinnier, or less pained. That’s okay. Each time I put on pants and shower is a small victory, and it may not stack up to others’ or society’s expectations. Just because you have an invisible illness doesn’t mean the little things aren’t visible, either.