People normally lament losing their energy and verve as they get older but what do you do if you’re 32 years old and you feel like you’re 84? What do you do if you can’t do all the things you want to do because your body is breaking down?
At 32 I felt like I was 84. After a day’s work I was so tired that I would usually prefer to go to bed at 7pm rather than go out with friends. I was in pain 24/7, my head was always aching and my knees and elbows started aching for no identifiable reason. I spent my weekends in bed, wishing I was out doing all the things I loved but didn’t feel good enough to do.
I saw my friends’ postings on Facebook where they were busy mountain biking, kayaking, and backpacking. Seeing what they were able to do left me with a nagging sense of sadness, jealousy, and insufficiency. I WANTED to be out doing all those things! I wanted to see the mountains from a mountain bike but I didn’t have the energy. I wanted to backpack into places where the only living thing you heard was the wind in the trees but my knees ached too much. I wanted to kayak but the headaches kept me home. As the sadness and jealousy slowly grew I started thinking, If doing those things is cool and fun, and I can’t do any of those things anymore, then what does that make me? Boring, lame, sad?
Looking back I can recognize the absurdity of those thoughts. But hindsight is 20/20, especially when I’ve struggled with negative thoughts since I was a teen. As a teen I was smart and athletic and healthy but I never felt like I was enough. I got a 4.036 GPA in high school but my friends were smarter. I played volleyball and soccer but my teammates were better. I was in band and choir but I was never 1st chair. I was fit and healthy but I wasn’t as thin as some of the other girls. I knew that technically I had a lot to be proud of but I couldn’t shake the feeling of not being good enough. Those feelings slowly grew as I got sicker and wasn’t able to do many of the things I loved.
Where did that leave me? Feeling crappy, both physically and emotionally.
I struggled with feeling insufficient and depressed because my limitations for years until one day I came upon the saying, “Do what you can with what you have” and it struck a chord with me. I had to take some time to truly think through what that statement meant for me. I tested my limitations to see what I could do and to see what made my body feel its best. There were definitely times of intense frustration and sadness as bumped up against my limitations but I slowly started focusing on what I could do instead of what I couldn’t do.
• I couldn’t backpack but I could hike a few miles.
• I couldn’t mountain bike but I could jeep.
• I couldn’t stay up until 3am but I could save my energy so when I felt good enough I could go out with friends.
• I couldn’t eat what I wanted but I could carefully choose the foods I ate so my knees and elbows would have a chance to heal.
Focusing on what I could do wasn’t a quick fix. There were many times when I got sucked into thinking about what society says is cool or valuable. And there were days when I felt truly horrible and I could have thrown myself a justified pity party. But each time I choose to change my focus because I may be in pain but I don’t have to suffer.
I learned that I don’t have to do what everyone else does. I don’t have to prove to myself, or anyone else, that I’m a badass by doing an Ironman or the Leadville 100 (yes, my desire for accomplishment and achievement has led me to seriously consider each of these endeavors at one time or another). My Ironman may be going to work every day or doing a 20 minute body weight strength training program three days a week.
I also learned that I am enough as long as I’m true to myself and I do what I can, when I can. I only need to feed my soul, honor my calling and surround myself with people who understand my limitations and support my healing journey.
While I still have moments of insecurity and jealousy, I’m learning to focus on the satisfaction and joy of who I am and what I can do. Those moments of appreciation are getting more frequent and the moments of insecurity and jealousy are happening less and less often. The pain and limitations don’t define who I am anymore. There are many things I can’t control, but this I can control. What can you do?