My original plan here was to write about how to train around pain. I was looking at it from the perspective of someone who thinks pain is the end; a stopping-block to feelings of achievement and happiness. I had plans, and my body let me down. However, today my heart is seeing this from another perspective.
Pain is a blessing.
Last year I lived in a hell of pain with seemingly no end in sight. It brought me face to face with my greatest fears. This turned out to be the greatest blessing.
I traded the fresh, green countryside of Northern Ireland last year for the hot, dusty desert of Saudi Arabia to join my husband who was working there. In preparation for the move, I went off my anti-TNF therapy (for the auto-immune arthritis I was diagnosed with back in 2007). I did this because I felt good. That, and I didn’t believe I really had an auto-immune thing anyway. I just thought it was SI Joint pain, plain and simple.
As it turns out, I was wrong. After enjoying the first five weeks in Saudi pain-free, I began experiencing the dreaded ache. Training became impossible, sleeping was a nightmare, and walking was more like a shuffle. Over the next few months, pain spread throughout my entire body. I finally saw a doctor, who ran some tests, and it was only then that finally accepted the truth: this is an auto-immune thing after all.
I want to take you deeper into my story to reveal just how I could find a such blessing within the idea that my body was letting me down.
I’ve always felt like I have something to prove:
In my pre-teen years, I was awestruck by Sarah Connor doing chin-ups in Terminator 2. My older brother and I used to play super hero games, and I always insisted on being called “Sarah.” I had to be the strong, sexy, female character. It felt cool to be a badass. These women had something special, something to be envied, and something that seemed to impress everyone.
Yet, all I ever heard was “You’re good, for a girl.” I simply wanted to be good. FULL STOP.
I was angry at how a woman’s worth was measured and compared to a man’s worth, yet I seemed to play right into that mentality. I deliberately chose to do “male” stuff, motivated by the belief that “girl” stuff was inferior. In my attempts to prove that I was better, I had done so from a core belief that I was less.
It has taken me over 20 years to see how I have been playing into the thing I hated. This manifested as anger, self-loathing, a harsh attitude toward other women, seeking validation from men, comparing myself to ridiculous standards, and never feeling like I was enough. I’ve spent so much of my life battling to be seen, heard, and loved. Despite all that effort and energy, I felt pointless and unlovable.
Last year in the midst of all that horrible pain, and feeling that my body had let me down, all I had left was what I’d always hidden from the world:
Trapped by physical pain I was forced to get comfortable in my weakness. You could say I had to become unapologetically weak!
The reason behind so many of the things I’ve done (physique goals, strength goals, personal actions) have so often been based on the belief that perfection will bring happiness, love, respect… value. Oh, how wrong I was! Focused on the fear of what not being enough might mean, I completely missed that I was enough all along.
This makes me wonder how many other women experience similar feelings and inner conflict, instead of embracing all that we are.
What a lesson! My body didn’t let me down. It gave me a "time-out" and provided a much-needed shift in perspective, allowing me to see all there is of me that I’d neglected to acknowledge most of my life. This “disruption” gave me the opportunity to feel gratitude for the wholeness of who I am: body, mind, and soul—with the added bonus of ensuring that I never, ever taking movement for granted again!
What a gift!
It’s often only in those darkest times we can see the smallest light. It feels so liberating to finally let me (not “Sarah”) shine through. I have gained a different kind of strength from embracing my weaknesses and imperfections.
This is just my story, but if you are suffering today—in pain, feeling insecure and inadequate, pressured to be or do something that feels impossible to live up to—I hope my story can offer a new perspective to consider, and give you the strength to embrace yourself as you are now.
If you're currently struggling due to illness or pain, and feel that your body has betrayed you, here are six things you can do:
If these sound familiar to you, you are not alone.
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