Two Weeks of Post-op Non-activity
Following ankle surgery on 1/26/18, I was in a cast and on crutches with no weight-bearing allowed for two weeks. This was far from my first time post-op and on crutches, but it was the first time in 16 orthopedic surgeries that I willingly sat for the entire two weeks.
Following all previous surgeries, I’d be up and around just as soon as I could, taking short crutch/walks outside and getting out of the house so as to move my body and not “go crazy.” Many times it was too much too soon, resulting in pain and exhaustion after my efforts. Worn out on that model, I wanted to do things differently this time around.
I set a goal to do no physical activity for two weeks. I was curious what I’d learn about myself and what I could take away from this experience that might be helpful to others.
But first, a bit of personal history…
Some History on my Movement Obsession
Where did this need for constant movement come from? I tell myself I exercise daily because my body needs movement to function properly. Mostly, this is true. A traumatic back surgery in 1999 left me with nerve damage and chronic pain. Sitting especially causes intense discomfort, and I avoid activities that keep my butt in a chair for any period of time. Moving my body regularly alleviates sitting pain and just plain feels good!As long as I don’t do too much. For the past 20+ years, I’ve struggled to find an elusive balance with exercise — where’s the fine line between enough and too much? I’ve watched myself creep toward the side of too much, becoming increasingly dependent on exercise to cope with life’s stressors and feel good about myself. It’s clear that my mind also requires hefty doses of exercise to stay sane.
It wasn’t always like this. I was very active as a child, skiing, waterskiing, gymnastics, hiking and biking. In my 20’s I expanded my repertoire to include activities that tested the role of intense focus in activity– rock climbing, barefoot waterskiing, mountaineering. I loved to explore what was possible when my body and mind functioned in seamless rhythm. I drew upon and enjoyed my inherent drive, but never pushed myself to the point of injury.
Then something changed in my early 30s. For various reasons I slipped into an identity crisis and needed to reformulate myself as something — I chose athlete! I was married to a doctor at the time and I didn’t have to work so I could exercise as much as I liked. I meticulously crafted a version of myself that I really liked — running, mountain biking, radical downhill skiing, backpacker-who-could-carry-80-pounds…anything to push the limits beyond what I could previously do. Moderate exercise was no longer enough. My then husband’s friends called me “the animal”, which I loved. My sense of self-worth and identity got looped in with intense exercise. It was no longer just about the joys of physical activity and movement; my very sense of being felt at stake in athletic pursuits.
But sadly, my body could in no way keep up. The fun aspect got partially edged out by a desperate fear that if I ceased activity, I would be lost.
Running especially was my crutch — I felt like I needed to run to survive. I trained hard for five marathons during this time and ran none of them. As mileage increased, each time I’d get injured and have to back off, start over, try again. The last marathon attempt ended in that very difficult back surgery of 1999, which then threw me into a cycle I appear to still be in! Of injury from overuse, surgery to fix something, recovery, trying to come back too soon, repeat, repeat, repeat.
I am overdramatizing here to make a point. Of course, there were and still are thousands of times that my exercise pursuits were exciting, fun and adventurous, and well within the norm of what’s beneficial and healthy for me. For the most part, I love my active lifestyle! But over the years, I noticed that I was prioritizing exercise above most other things, a clear indication that my life was out of balance.
Readers, can you relate to this? Do you also struggle to find that elusive balance between what’s enough and what’s too much?
Why I have prioritized exercise to an unhealthy degree
During my two weeks off, I asked myself the hard questions. What’s really going on with the at-times excessive need I have to exercise? What else is at stake besides fear of losing a core part of my identity if I back off on exercise?
It all comes down a fear of “getting fat”. Simply put, I’ve spent my entire adult life struggling with body image issues.
Perhaps you can relate. So many women (and some men) struggle with this issue of letting their self-worth be caught up in numbers on the scale and how clothes fit and how they think they appear. Folks, we are in this together! Perhaps something in my story will help you make sense of yours…
My struggle started at the age of 17 when I developed an eating disorder, bulimia. I got caught in a vicious cycle of binging on huge quantities of high-carb and high sugar foods to feed an inner void I could barely identify, then purging it all so I would not gain weight. That habit continued on and off for 35 years! Finally, I am breaking free and sharing my story. My recovery journey has been filled with ups and downs and a million times when I was certain I was free of my personal hell, only to slip back into old habits of coping again.
In my 30’s I binged and purged less but exercised more. With an already high metabolism, it became easy to maintain or even lose weight while still eating large portions of healthy food. I grew terrified that if I “let myself go”, became a softer version of myself or gained weight, not only would I lose my identity as “the animal”, but I would be unacceptable in the eyes of the world. And to myself.
I know I am not alone in this. Is your self-esteem somehow linked to a number on a scale? Do you feel that you need to look a certain way to be acceptable to the outside world? To yourself?
Linking the past to the present…
I hope it’s now clear why it was such a big deal for me to commit to two-weeks of no exercise whatsoever. And no change in eating habits. That was the other rule I set for myself. I wanted to see what would happen if I ate normally and sat on my butt for two weeks. Would I gain weight, and if so, how well would I tolerate it? Could I embrace and love my sedentary self regardless, even if I gained weight?
The best measure I had for the physical part of my test was the Fun Pants. If you read the previous post, The Fun Pants, you will recall that I boldly wore tie-dye pants to surgery in celebration of not caring what people thought. Now, two weeks later, it was time to put them on again. They were tight when I wore them to surgery; how would they fit after two weeks of complete non-activity? Boldly I decided to try them on with the tie-dye tank top for even greater effect.
And yes! The pants fit tighter! The bulge in my stomach required more effort to keep in! I could feel in those clothes that I had gained weight, and I could see it in the side by side photos.
But here’s what also happened. I experienced liberation with the realization that I did not care! I felt relaxed and happy with this new slightly softer version of myself. Quite honestly, few besides me would probably even be able to tell a difference in the photos. And if they did, they probably wouldn’t care. I also wondered: whom was I imagining as the “they” that would criticize me, anyway? And if “they” did care, so what? I realized something crucial: that’s not my problem!
To begin testing the waters of my new point of view, I confidently I went out in public (though not in the Fun Pants) two days later to get my cast changed after 16 days in almost complete seclusion. Not surprisingly, no one noticed anything amiss! No one said, “Gosh, you’ve gone to hell in two weeks…what happened?” The bogeyman I’ve always feared didn’t materialize.
I am making fun of myself to make a point. I know intellectually that I am not fat, even five pounds heavier. No one would term me fat and I don’t consider myself that. But all those questions of identity and self-worth DID raise their ugly heads at times throughout the two weeks. I dug deep, and, thankfully, was able to let go, at a very deep level, of this need to be thin. I still want to be fit, I still love to exercise, and I will keep moving as long as I am able! However, something tangible happened during those two weeks. I am finally able to move beyond the need to exercise excessively keep myself thin at a cost that is simply too high to maintain anymore.
After 35 long years, I entered into a new relationship with the only body I have. In all likelihood, that body will get softer and rounder the further along the aging path I go! I am strong in my conviction that I have finally arrived at a place of intuitively trusting and respecting what the appropriate limits of exercise are for me moving forward. And with that comes an immense sense of relief! I feel a new lightness and ease that has nothing whatsoever to do with body weight.
CELEBRATE THE UNIQUE BODY YOU HAVE AND ALL IT ALLOWS YOU TO DO! No body is perfect, but age and wisdom can bring you peace and acceptance of this one beautiful body that is uniquely yours. Give it some love today!
STRUGGLING WITH BODY IMAGE ISSUES, YOUR RELATIONSHIP TO FOOD OR EXCESS IN YOUR LIFE? I CAN HELP YOU MAKE PEACE WITH YOUR BODY AND THE FOOD ON YOUR PLATE!