Health And Wellness

I Neglected My Body When I Was Younger — Now I’m Paying The Consequences

Photo: South_agency, macniak | Canva 
Exhausted woman

My left knee is so inflamed it hurts to walk. The pain has now wrapped around my leg, up my thigh, and down to my ankle. It feels no better sitting than standing, and ice only gives me relief for a minute or two. 

It’s been a while since this has happened, but I should have known it was coming.

I started easing my way back into running last month. A couple of miles here, a couple of miles there. And most of the time, my runs are more like a run-walk because I value intuitive movement and don’t like forcing myself to do things that feel terrible anymore.

But man, spring arrived and I couldn’t help but put on my running shoes and get outside. Working from home has made me value movement even more.

Getting up from my desk and doing something — anything — is important for my mental health. 

Yet, running is a slippery slope for me.

Why? For years I used running to escape my pain, purge my food, and manipulate my body into looking a certain way. I struggled with something called exercise addiction on top of other eating disorders.

People like to joke and say, “Yeah, but isn’t it good to be addicted to exercise?”

I don’t know; you tell me.

Is it good to prioritize burning calories over spending time with your loved ones? And is it good to tell yourself you’re a worthless human being when you don’t exercise?

Is it good to ignore physical pain, your mental health — and literally everything else — if it means getting your workout in?

I don’t think so.

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I’m in my twenties, but feel as if I’m in my sixties

I didn’t tune in and listen when I was younger and was told I’d pay for it. Doctors and physical therapists made it clear I’d be in a wheelchair by the time I was thirty if I didn’t learn how to rest.

But I didn’t know how. All I knew how to do was run further and further away from my trauma and mental turmoil. I knew how to start running and only stop once the monsters in my head told me I had done enough — but only for that single day.

And although my body and I are much closer friends than we once were, it’s still holding a grudge. It’s hurt and I don’t blame it.

I can’t do the things I used to do and I’ve accepted that. I’ve accepted that I will never be as much of a runner as I once was, and for good reason. My body can’t take it.

My hips and knees are weak and tired from years of running on bone and rejecting my intuition. My feminine energy has chimed in to say, Enough! We need balance and this is not the way.

But it’s hard. It’s hard because there were a lot of things I loved about running before it became an unhealthy addiction and my eating disorder took over.

Now — even if I wanted to — I can’t run like I used to. I’m 26, yet it feels like I’m living inside the body of someone much older.

I can’t even do simple core exercises without modifying them because my hips simply can’t take it. I have little cartilage left from all those times my body was shouting at me to stop, but I turned the music up and ran faster.

Nothing else mattered… not even my future.

Last year, I got to the place where I could usually manage one or two runs a week and still be okay. A little sore here and there, but the good kind of sore. Running wasn’t something forced or planned, it was just a spontaneous decision I felt excited about.

I didn’t track my mileage, and I didn’t beat myself up when I felt like walking. Instead, I celebrated my body and was grateful that although I couldn’t run as much as I used to, at least I could still run when I wanted to.

And thank goodness I had and still have other forms of movement I enjoy, like yoga, Pilates, HIIT, walking, hiking, gardening, and swimming.

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My pain came out of nowhere

As I said before, it’s been a long time since I’ve felt this kind of knee pain and I’m not sure why it decided to onset all of a sudden. I ran last week, but not anywhere close to when I first noticed my knee to be swollen and upset.

So far, I haven’t been able to do any type of movement. Yesterday, I rolled out my yoga mat and even that was too much. Within the first few minutes, I turned off the online instructor and went and got ready.

It hurt too bad.

And because I’ve been compensating with my other leg when I stand, now my right knee is hurting, too.

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I’m icing nonstop, using the foam roller, soaking in Epsom salts, massaging, scraping, doing old physical therapy exercises, and using a TENS unit. I have all the tools, yet my body is rejecting them all.

These moments and flare-ups always present the challenge of listening to my body. Will I be patient and honor what it's asking of me, or will I push through the pain and resort to old behaviors?

This time, it’s especially tempting not to listen because I recently voiced to my partner that I think I’ve gained weight and don’t feel the best in my body.

“Well, remember, your body is the least interesting thing about you,” he told me.

That’s what I like to tell others struggling to accept how they look, but of course, the advice we give others is never as easy to give to ourselves.

What I’ve learned from my hurt knees this time is no matter how badly I want to erase the past and pretend it didn’t happen, it’s still there and will forever be a part of me and my story.

It can hurt, frustrate, and sadden me, but we’ve come a long way — me and my body — and I should remember that in the tough moments.

I made poor choices when I was younger because I didn’t know how else to survive and still be okay. Now, I’m older and wiser and am being asked to remember and honor the past with open arms.

Maybe this pain is more than a random inconvenience; maybe it’s an opportunity to grow and heal even more… as cheesy as that sounds.

Whatever the reason, I’m sitting through the pain, reflecting, and listening.

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Carly Newberg is a yoga instructor, photographer, and non-niche writer passionate about authentic storytelling. Carly published her memoir, Good Enough, in 2020 and is now a regular contributor on Medium. She's had articles featured in publications such as Insider, Well & Good, and Dame. 

This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.