Anne K. Smith

07.24.1928 – 03.27.2019

My brother and sister-in-law did the math. 83 people directly on “Team Grandma”. 18 sons and daughters (including spouses), 38 grandsons and granddaughters (not including spouses), great-grandchildren. Anita Smith touched a lot of lives, and the numbers above are only immediate family.

Us grandchildren were asked to reflect on lessons we learned from Grandma Smith. My first reaction was to resent the fact that “learned” has to be in past tense now.

In October 2013, my parents and Grandma Smith came to Family Weekend at Marquette and we went to mass and dinner together.

Shortly after that weekend, my parents approached me about how little I was eating, and my pediatrician talked to me about gaining weight and seeing a therapist. I didn’t understand why everyone was being so pushy.

It wasn’t until months later that I had learned that Grandma had insisted to my parents that I seemed unhappy and seemed like I had lost a significant amount of weight. She read through my excuses of “I just don’t like the food my dining hall offers”, “I’m having a hard time finding people to eat with”, “I’m working out twice a day but they’re not hard workouts”, etc. She just said what needed to be said.

It’s really easy to overlook the people closest to us. It’s really easy to feel uncomfortable saying something when you notice something wrong. It’s really easy to miss changes that happen in bits, over time, especially when, like my parents, you see the person frequently. It’s really easy to trust that when someone says “I’m fine”, they aren’t actually really questioning whether life is worth living.

Grandma never did that. Grandma always chose the difficult, but necessary, route.

At first glance, it’s possible that she said exactly what was on her mind because she was almost 90 years old and she had nothing to lose. At second glance, it’s possible that she said just the right thing because she had lived a lot of life and understood how the world worked.

But when you’re a parent and your daughter is in the midst of an eating disorder, you need an old, wrinkly, sweet, Irish woman to repeat herself loudly, then louder a second time, “Do you see how thin she’s gotten?”

I respect and revere my grandmother because she started a clan as large as the Smiths. I love and admire her because even when she had congestive heart failure, a couple vertebral compression fractures, a deep vein thrombosis, pneumonia, she would say “I have nothing to complain about” (and in my head I’d say, Grandma you have literally 15 plus things you could be complaining about). I look up to her because even with almost 100 immediate family members, she showed every single one just how special they were to her and it was those family members that she lived and continued to live for. I will never forget her because of the many things she’s taught me about love, family, friendship, faith, strength, courage, and so much more.

But the quality that I think about every time I’m faced with a difficult conversation is her ability to wade through discomfort and say what needs to be said.

We can be so dismissive of people’s suffering because we want so badly to believe they’re okay. We can ignore doing what’s right because we somehow question whether or not we’re qualified to help them.

If we have love for another, we are qualified. Grandma cherished each person who crossed her path in this weird, beautiful life and picked up on each need and did anything she could to make sure it was met. She had the incredible ability to make it clear just how immeasurably you were loved just by looking at you and listening. She saw worth, dignity, and potential in each of her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and made sure they each did too. She is the reason I’m alive today. She is the reason I’m as fulfilled as I am today.

Grandma, I couldn’t say it over FaceTime when my dad’s screen brightness blinded you on Tuesday night. First of all, I’m sorry for blinding you and for dripping my tears on your head when you were in the hospital. Second, third, fourth, and every number that follows, thank you. Thank you for saying what needed to be said in 2013. Thank you for showing me how to love. Thank you for showing me how to care. Thank you for being there for everything, graduations, first communions, birthdays, weddings, Christmases, Easters. Thank you for showing up for each and every one of us. For demonstrating determination, positivity, and resolve.  For giving us the gift of our faith, our family, and every bit of love that came from both of those things. For staying around as long as you could. For living and dying with grace. For watching over us now.

I love you, Grandma. I miss you more than I can say.

Anne K. Smith

Gray

My little patellar tendon graft scar turned 6 months old on Saturday. I drew a candle on it to celebrate.

A few weeks ago, I remember reading about ACL’s in my kinesiology book, about all of the different ways to injury them, about how common it is in females. I remember feeling so afraid in high school, of watching my classmates and my teammates go down, explain what happened, struggle on crutches for months, come back to the game they and I loved, only to tear it again. I remember in that moment, reading about ACL’s, as if from a distance, miles in the air above where I was sitting, thinking I am so glad that hasn’t happened, and wow, I don’t want that to happen to me. It was almost instinctual; I was trained as a female soccer player to think that way, and here that feeling was again. Then I snapped back to reality, got nauseous, and had to stop.

I was reminiscing with a classmate about freshman year of undergrad. About how we met in McCormick through mutual friends, friends that, presumptively, he kept, and that I left behind. He said “you kind of disappeared, I wondered where you went since you weren’t friends with them anymore” and I didn’t know what to say.

What really happened was that I was deathly afraid of gaining weight, so instead of going out with them or staying up late and getting pizza in the cafeteria of my freshman dorm, I went to bed early to avoid the hunger that usually hit around 9 pm. I didn’t want to lose friends or push people away, but I was anxious and depressed and didn’t understand it. I instead turned to the things I “understood”, which happened to be an eating disorder, isolation, etc.

It wasn’t that I didn’t want to be friends with them. It was just that I didn’t know how to in a way that fit into my restrictive lifestyle. So I lost the friends regardless.

I didn’t say all of that to him. I just said we drifted away.

I spent a weekend alone at Holy Hill Guest House and hiked and sat in an almost-empty church and read. I reflected on everything – a childhood as an outdoorsy kid, a cradle Catholicism, an easy grade school and high school experience with a few tumultuous moments stirred in, a difficult college beginning and a better college ending, a roller coaster of the past year in grad school, losing 20 pounds, gaining back 20 plus pounds, learning about anxiety, depression, starting on Lexapro, raising my dosage, dropping my dosage, suicidal thoughts, raising my dosage again, dropping it again, meeting new friends, moving past old ones, dating, breaking up, gaining family members, losing family members – everything that had led me to that spot.

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately.

I went to the woods because I wished to live quietly, just for a second.

And in reflecting on what I got out of my little “retreat”, I don’t think I found answers necessarily. I think I found that everything I brought to Holy Hill was important, as painful as the experiences were when I was in the midst of them, and that everything I brought fit together. I came away from the weekend not with a reason for what I had been through and learned from, but rather with an acceptance that while I may never understand it, I carried many things that, put together, resembled a strong but broken woman who has quite the capacity to hurt and also to love.

I’ve tried to bring Holy Hill back to Milwaukee with me. I dog-sat for my friend’s dog, Tucker, for six days and slept with a pet in my bed for the first time in my life. I go for more walks. I read more. I avoid my phone more. I don’t go on social media. I try to experience quiet for more of my day than I used to. I talk to God in friendly terms and not through questions of why. It’s been a shift, but not a dramatic one. The changes I’ve made have seeped into the cracks of my life that were a little too prone to shift and cause discomfort and holds them tighter and more securely.

I am six months into ACL recovery, and as expected, it’s been a mix of highs and lows. I’ve started to wait for when I can push myself in my strengthening workouts, where I can do a box jump or ten when a few weeks ago I could barely clear the ground. Where I can deadlift a weight that I used to struggle with only eight months ago, that now feels comfortable. Where I can see my physical strength come back, and I can feel and reflect on and challenge my mental strength. Where I can stop a negative thought and push myself to say three things that I like about myself instead:

“I like my eyes and how they show I’m listening. I like my glute muscles for letting me run like I want to and love to. I like my knee for teaching me so many things.”

It’s taught me to be patient. It has taught me to enjoy things other than running and working out and making friendships that are based mainly on those things, and instead enjoying things like a good book, talking to a friend or mom over a cup of coffee or tea, learning to use a lighter and burning a pungent candle in my office, driving down a sunny street underneath yellow falling leaves, going to the movies, sleeping in. It’s taught me to take myself less seriously. To be humble. To be humiliated and cut down to size by activities that used to be really easy. To ask for help.

Life is quieter now. More comfortable.

I go about my day and routine with less effort, less convincing. I find it easier to do things that are good for me, be it meals, exercise, not-exercising, avoiding or coping with anxiety, talking to myself gently.

It hasn’t happened suddenly and I don’t think it’s as good as it could be. But it has seeped into the cracks of my life and holds them tightly. I’ve learned to love the space that sits between the polarity that we so often as a society desire.

Fat. Thin.

Old. Young.

Driven. Lazy.

Single. Taken.

Happy. Depressed.

Sick. Recovered.

My life has been sprinkled with the gray zones that sit in the space between polarity. The gray has always been there, but I am more aware and accepting of it, of the days where I study for six hours straight and then watch three episodes of The Office, the workouts where I intend to push my limits and settle for what’s comfortable and a little easier than planned and end early, the weekends where I anticipate a full schedule and decide instead to sit in bed until 10 am and don’t feel bad or good about it, just okay.

“I just listened to the music and breathed in the day, and remembered things. Things like walking around the neighborhood and looking at the houses and the lawns and the colorful trees and having that be enough.”

Gray

Mirrors

I started this post two days ago because September 30th is an important date. I’ve been reflecting a lot on what has changed over the past year since I gave my TEDx talk. A LOT HAS CHANGED. A LOT.

I deleted my Facebook and Instagram. Not because I was wasting time on it, nay, ‘twas more important than that. I’ve been thinking a lot about what has led me to that decision.

I read through my draft of my talk a couple nights ago and remembered back to the list of things that I said that I’ve been working on. I refer to my eating disorder in the past tense. I tell people about it shamelessly.

I got rid of my floor-length mirror.

It’s tough to pick out an outfit when you can’t see it in full, but there are timed iPhone cameras for that. Plus, it’s not essential to find the clothes that look “perfect” on. They’re never going to, and I can tell if it coordinates when it’s lying on the floor when I set it out the night before I wear it. The only thing that my floor length mirror did for me was waste my time. I wasted time looking in it, I wasted time after looking in it picking out a more “flattering” outfit, and I wasted time after that looking in it again, judging myself.

Sometimes I wish I had one, just to see how my calves look in a pair of heels, but I can promise you post-op ACL and meniscal repair, the first thing and the fifth thing on the doctor’s order is not wearing heels. Also, plantar flexor atrophy is no joke.

It’s been over a year since I’ve had one, and while sometimes it’s hard thinking about how other people see me without any feedback (or self-judgment), I’m pretty content without it and I’m getting by.

There have been some self-care-related steps I’ve taken in the past few months to help with feelings of adequacy. One of them has been purging my life of things that don’t make me feel great. Unfollowing people on Instagram that didn’t make me feel positively about myself. Donating clothes I knew I’d never fit into no matter how hard I tried. Turning off notifications from people on Facebook that forced me to whisper affirmations to myself.

At first, these felt selfish, drastic, and cruel. But without them, I found that I had to convince myself just a little less that I was good enough.

I left group messages.

I left Snapchat groups.

It felt like spring cleaning. I had mental clarity.

Months later, it became clear I needed a clean break. After consultation with my BROTHER’S WIFE’S SISTER (yes, I like being able to say my “brother’s wife” instead of fiancée), I deactivated my Facebook and Instagram.

It’s been a long couple days of breaking the habit of typing “fa-“ into the Google search bar. It’s taken a similar amount of adjustment that it took to stop looking for a full-body reflection of myself.

My full-length mirror was a $10 mirror from Target I got when I was a freshman in college. By the end of its lifespan, it was four years old. It was bent up, smudged, a little bit cracked, and a weird tint in certain places. What was reflected back to me, no matter how long I looked at it, wasn’t actually me. It was me, but a weird, distorted version of me.

My friend Katherine (who is a genius and helps people with mental illness as a clinical psych, which I think is pretty darn cool) brought up the idea of mental autotune. I know I’ve talked about it before, but it’s worth a revisit.

Autotune is what we hear  when we’re most self-critical and hardest on ourselves. It sounds a lot like us, but it’s just a little bit off. What we hear in our heads is a strange, distorted version of the way we should talk to ourselves; it’s too judgmental, doesn’t always tell the truth, and has a tendency to be a bit too loud.

Facebook was the distorted autotune that was pumping through my visual speakers for too long. Facebook was the distorted mirror that reflected back a filtered, fake version of me and the world around me. Facebook was whispering things that weren’t true, and it took way too much energy to keep reminding myself it’s their highlight reel, not reality. It’s what they want you to see, not the quiet struggle that you’re experiencing right now.

Facebook can be a great tool for connecting with people from far away, but it tends to be abused and it tends to abuse us. I am sick of being abused.

I am sick of spending the energy that I should be using for relationships, studying, and healing to convince myself that I’m good enough. I am exhausted.

Quoting a poet and a friend:

“Mirrors can lie,

People reflect better.”

Mirrors

I’m not the same

I was listening to a podcast from Wisconsin Notes featuring Hillary Allen. She is a sky-runner, meaning she does ultramarathons on extremely steep mountains, climbing 4000 m each race. She’s a North Face athlete as well as an anatomy professor (!!!). A nerd, an athlete, like me.

In one of her races last August, she fell 150 feet and broke multiple bones in her body, undergoing numerous surgeries, rehab, and a journey back to running and competing. The podcast, though partially about her physical battles, was mostly about mental struggle. Mental struggle during the fall. Mental struggle from the pain. Mental struggle from the surgeries, from questioning whether or not she’d ever run again, from wondering if the day she was living in was worth it.

Towards the end, she talked about how she’s not the same person she was a year ago.

I’m not the same person I was a year ago. September 16, 2017 was two weeks before my TEDx talk. September 16, 2017 was two weeks before my 3:14 marathon, before I qualified for the Boston Marathon, a marathon I won’t run.

Yesterday, I posted a picture of my PT friends, Amanda and Rachel, and myself smiling at a Brewer’s game. I sent it to my mom, who said we all looked so happy. We did look happy. But before posting it, however, I focused on my cheeks and how I thought that my face looked fat. I tried to find a filter that shadowed the parts I disliked about my body. I almost didn’t post it, and then when I did, I wrote a really clever caption, one that hid what I actually thought of the picture and of myself.

You’d think that after 5 years of therapy for an eating disorder I’d be ready and able to recognize when I needed to see my therapist. You’d think I’d recognize the signs: a flare up of eating disorder thoughts, food restrictions, not being able to sleep, low motivation, not showering as often (because what’s the point in spending time to take care of myself?), isolating myself, pretending to be fine, and yet spending a lot of nights crying myself to sleep. But it took my mom and dad and one of my best friends telling me I had to get myself in after a panic attack outside my grandma’s birthday party to understand just how bad it had gotten.

I am not the same person I was last year. I am not the same person that other people think I am. I can have friends and relatives tell me I’m strong, I’m loved, and that they’re proud of me but I struggle to believe it. I don’t believe them because I project my own self-doubts on them: that I am broken, I’m lost, I’m “damaged goods”.

Last night, I told my family that school was going well, but “moving fast”, but I couldn’t tell them that I feel like I will forever be behind, that an assignment that a professor sprung on us made me think I should drop out of PT school because I’m not capable, that I am constantly convincing myself to stay. I told them that Danny and Colleen are having an amazing time on their honeymoon and that I love them so much, but I didn’t say that I’m afraid that compared to them, I’ll never be in as loving of a relationship, that I think I’ll end up eternally single, and that my plan of moving to India with girlfriends at 35 when we’re all unmarried actually is, to me, realistic. I told my family that I was so happy that I ran for the first time in 159 days on Friday, but I didn’t tell them that I still resent that I ever got hurt.

I watched a movie called Stronger about Jeff Bauman and his recovery from having a double trans-femoral amputation after the Boston Marathon bombing, and balled my eyes out, first, because I thought I didn’t deserve to cry because I still had my legs, and second, because I qualified for that very race and I don’t know if I’ll run a marathon again.

The whole time I’ve been writing this, I’ve wondered if it’s too negative. If it’s too personal. If it’s too much of a downer. If anyone will feel the same way and reach out, or will have stopped reading after the first …

Each day, I wake up with hopes of a better today than yesterday. Each day there are consolations, each day there are desolations. Each day passes, with physical and mental accomplishments, occasionally really good moments, and frequently dark clouds. I’m 18 weeks post-op, and it’s hard to believe that I’ve made it this far and still am struggling with the idea that I almost skipped the game on April 8, that all of the events, breakups and first dates, sitting on the sidelines, mental struggles, personal doubts, high points (Danny’s wedding!!!), and low points could have been either prevented, or approached in a different light.

Anytime anyone asks me about my surgery and recovery, they say “are you running yet?” “When are you cleared?” “You must have learned so much from this, huh?” “Do you think you’ll be a better PT because of this?”

And I say, as of two days ago, yes. I’ve learned a lot. I will be better able to empathize with patients from this experience. But what I don’t say is way more important.

I don’t say that the physical struggle is barely a struggle. The pain post-op was excruciating, but there are medications for that. I hated being dependent, but I loved living with my parents. I resented missing out on summer, that I only put a swimsuit on once, but I still got to be outside a lot.

I don’t say that the mental battle is way worse. Convincing myself daily to keep going, to put on a good face, especially when people reply to me saying I’m gonna run to the bathroom with “oh, you’re gonna RUN to the bathroom”, to believe that I will come out of this “stronger” when my muscles are atrophied and my soul is worn out, to take each day as an independent opportunity for self-care and watch them change to weeks and to months… that’s the hard part of surgery.

The pain passes. Finding a deep, strong part of myself that emerged and grew moderately with eating disorder recovery, and is absolutely necessary now, that’s the hard part of surgery.

Watching people do the activities I love, like running, climbing, swimming, racing, jumping, while telling myself that I’ll get there and that right now, my job is to heal, that’s the hard part of surgery.

Taking care of myself when all I want to do is stay in bed, avoid meals, and avoid human contact, that’s the hard part of surgery.

Thinking running for the first time would ultimately solve all of my problems, that I would cry happy tears, that I would feel more like myself, and yet not be surprised when it isn’t what I expected it to be, and rather have my knee feel weird and my heart a little sad, that’s the hard part of surgery.

There’s something so vulnerable and necessary about saying I’m struggling that I hate but need. There’s something so necessary about admitting to myself, and in admitting to you all, that I should hold myself accountable, call the Counseling Center tomorrow, and make myself a nourishing and complete dinner, that I hate but need. There’s something so necessary about risking texts from people who read this asking if I’m okay, or risking questions from Jeff (PT, we’re friends on Facebook) at our next session as to whether I’m okay, that I hate but I need. I am not the same person that I was last year, but in a year, I think I’ll be able to say the same.

I’m not the same

ACL yup

I named the word doc draft on my computer ACL yup, so that’s what this is going to be called.

When Doc Gordon asked me to choose between a patellar and hamstring tendon graft for my new ACL, I asked which one he preferred. I’d had broken bones that had healed well, so patellar graft seemed logical (since they basically screw pieces of bone into either end of the graft tunnel, and then keep their fingers crossed that it bonds), but apparently hamstring grafts result in less anterior knee pain. It was “up to me”, which for an over-thinker, is a nightmare. I decided that I was going to make a decision, stick with it, and deal with the consequences.

Patellar tendon graft. Kneeling pain. Anterior knee pain. Quadriceps weakness. All things I had considered, but didn’t quite understand. So now I’m stuck with my decision, sometimes wondering what would have happened had I chosen my hamstring tendon instead, but making due with what I chose.

The beginning of rehab was incredibly boring. To protect my meniscus repair, all I could do in PT was move through my working range of motion (passive and active), straight leg raises, and quad sets. It was painful, but only painful from the swelling, not the graft site. As PT continued, the swelling went down, my ability to do more activities, eventually weight-bearing, increased, and I started to encounter the dreaded…

Anterior knee pain.

My PT exercises have gotten harder. Palms sweaty, knees weak hard. I get to a point where my legs start shaking and then Jeff, my PT, pushes me even farther. It’s a constant battle between the voice in my head begging me to stop and the voice in my heart (and Jeff’s voice) begging me to continue. I leave the session sweaty and exhausted, and wake up the next morning feeling like I’ve been hit by a bus called physical therapy. Sometimes I pregame PT with Tylenol.

There are days I don’t want to do my exercises. There are days I don’t want to heal, that I wish I could be better already, or just be happy with where I’ve gotten and deal with the limitations I’d always have. There are days I look on the wall of my bedroom and three-times-over read the Rupi Kaur poem my roommate wrote out for me just in time for surgery:

i woke up thinking the work was done

i would not have to practice today

gone were the moments i’d

split into tears because my past was cracked open

 

how naïve. to think it was that easy.

 

healing has no end point

no summation

no finish line to cross

healing is every day work

the act of dedicating the self to

surviving what happened to me

 

Healing is every day work. And every day work is uncomfortable, sometimes painful. My knee will tell you that.

So is growth.

When Doc G. cut a piece out of my patella and tibia and the tendon that connected them, my body recoiled into what was comfortable and easy as a form of self-protection. My quad naturally stopped turning on so that it wouldn’t upset the graft site. My brain forces me to override its desire to push just a little less than I want it to.

Every time I ask my knee to do something it doesn’t want to, all of the cells in the area scream to go back to comfort. The pain I’m experiencing is from re-injuring wounds that have healed just enough – not strong enough to handle the stress I ask of it for the rest of my life, but strong enough to exist quietly, untouched. But existing quietly, untouched, never-moving-forward… that’s not living.

And such is emotional growth. Tearing open old wounds, asking the mind to push itself past where it wants to go, to go back to where it was before it was hurt and to become more than what it ever was. Pushing through pain, pain that is a natural signal to stop and just let it be out of fear of doing irreparable damage. Denying yourself the comfort of staying where you are, moving to foreign, unknown, dangerous places that may or may not hurt you more.

Growth is uncomfortable but the discomfort is necessary. If we become stagnant, we risk never becoming who God (or whatever you believe in) knows we can become. We have so, so much potential, and it’s wasted if we stay where we have working air conditioning, where our apples aren’t bruised, and our legs aren’t either. Healing, and becoming the best version of ourselves, requires a desire to change that is so strong, that we use our own voice to yell louder than the voice in our heads that tells us to stop.

Healing is every day work.

ACL yup

Karen

There is a voice in my head that I’ve named Karen.

Karen likes to tell me how I “should” feel. She likes to instill guilt, shame, and self-judgment and she is generally a day-ruiner.

But it has been insanely helpful to give her a name.

I recently crutched a 5k for body positivity inspired by Kelly Roberts (who, by the way, is so darn amazing). Before the race, the very cool, very hip “race director” Katherine talked about the Karens we all hear. Karen is like auto-tune (e.g. any Ke$ha song, ever): she sounds a whole lot like your own voice, but she is distorted. And man, she can be so convincing.

Karen can be loud. She can say things that sound so real that I almost believe her. Karen has a hard time separating true things from those that are completely illogical. For example, here’s something she was saying recently (that I almost fell for):

“Christine, you know how worried you are about your exams this week? Why don’t you also worry about what not running has been doing to your body? Oh, and also, why don’t you add the worry that your surgery was unsuccessful and you’ll never walk normally again?”

… to which, after realizing it was Karen talking and not me, I responded “or, Karen, I could not do those things.”

It’s almost a daily occurrence that I reach out to a friend or family member and talk about how much I hate Karen and the illogical things she’s saying. Doing this is one of the most cathartic and helpful things to do with the thoughts that beg to be held in, hidden, and shamefully left undiscovered. Saying my insecurities out loud helps me to realize how untrue they are. Putting a name to them, blaming Karen for the stupid things that put me in a bad mood, and realizing the thoughts are absolute garbage helps me to justify choosing not to listen to them.

The past months of recovery, patience, and ACL rehab have been mostly positive, but sometimes a wave of frustration will hit, Karen will speak up, and it takes a second or two to refocus. If I’ve learned anything from this process so far, it’s that I struggle (and will likely continue to my whole life) to separate real from false worries, fears, and insecurities. But I have been practicing telling Karen to shut up.

I wasn’t allowed to say “shut up” when I was little because my parents thought it was too mean. I still struggle with understanding why I’ve been given this cross but if for nothing else, I get to yell SHUT UP at Karen multiple times a day, so I’d say I’m getting something out of this process.

Deciding to pursue positivity and self-love is and always will be my choice, and the next few months will simply be more practice. I’m not sure if she’ll ever be totally silent, but each time she speaks up is an opportunity for me to remember to be kind to myself, to choose self-compassion, and keep fighting for the things that will help me heal mentally and physically.

Karen

Updates

A lot has changed since I last posted. I ran a marathon, I got a stress fracture, I started PT school, my family had to put our dog, Cary, down, I gave a TEDx talk.

And the most recent event?

I tore my ACL, medial meniscus, and lateral meniscus. Unexpected, to say the least. It’s been hard to accept.

For those interested, the “mechanism of injury” (*cough* *nerd*): I was going in for a ball in a soccer game (semi-finals, which we won…. boom) and the arch of my right foot was hit by a defender laterally. My leg planted too far right in comparison to where my body thought it was going, my body kept moving in the same direction, my knee torqued, I heard a “pop”, yada, yada, yada. I knew, while falling onto the field, exactly what had just happened.

If you’re a female soccer player (or a male, or a basketball player, volleyball player, or skier), hearing a “pop” when you go down on the field is your worst nightmare. It’s never good. You almost are always right when you assume it’s an ACL.

So, as expected, after getting MRI results, it was an ACL tear, as well as a bilateral meniscal tear of my right knee. I’m having surgery in a week and a half. Life will go on, I will come back stronger, and every phrase that anyone could say that’s encouraging to someone injured (“at least it’s not permanent”, “it’s only temporary”, etc.) has been said to me. I feel like I’m more hyper-aware of the types of phrases people offer because of learning deeply about empathy in one of my PT classes. Recommendation: don’t use “at least”. Try something like “I cannot imagine what you’re going through” (or! If you have torn your ACL: “I know how hard it is!”).

Here I am, sitting with one of those really nifty bionic knee braces where if I was in a fight with the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, I’d for sure win because it’s that sturdy, awaiting surgery, crutches, prehabbing myself, getting ready to rehab myself, and enjoy summer in a really great brace, coming out with really great brace tan lines.

Logically, given my history with an eating disorder, anxiety, depression, and exercise compulsions/exercise bulimia, I’ve had a lot of people ask me: how the heck are you handling this? What’s it like not to do cardio? Don’t you miss running? How are you maintaining your mental health? Are you maintaining your mental health?

And to be honest, I’ve been preparing for this day for YEARS.

My therapist and I had a conversation, back when I was more anxious, coping with running, and thought I had a one-item anxiety toolbox containing only running as a coping mechanism. She flat out told me that there would come a day where I wouldn’t be able to run for an extended period of time. Injury, pregnancy, work, getting mono. Something would stop me. And I would have to adjust my expectations, my schedule, my goals, and how I maintain my mental health.

The first few days after I tore it were awful. I couldn’t help but think that my summer was over. My brother is getting married in the early fall. What if I can’t dance at his wedding? I had so many plans, so many races I wanted to do, I was going to go camping with my dad. It felt like life, as I knew it, was over, and a really junky, boring, lazy version was about to start.

The next week was the Boston Marathon. I read the articles, watched the top female runners finish, and cried out of self-pity for my (likely) inability to run in 2019 Boston even though I qualified in the fall. I sat there, envious of the people (including my friends, my boyfriend, my classmates, people at November Project) who could run when I could only hobble. I had severe FOMO (fear of missing out) when I thought about of the outdoor activities I was planning on participating in. It. Was. Not. Fun.

I can’t say that those things don’t bother me still. I had friends race this weekend in a trail 20K, a race that I was registered for, a race that I did extremely well in last year. But thinking those negative, envious thoughts, and writing these words, only reminded me of one thing: I am still stuck in the comparison game.

When I recovered and restored my weight, now FOUR years ago (holy cow!), I couldn’t help but think people would judge me, comparing my current weight to what I looked like when I was sick. When I started PT school, I couldn’t help but compare my study habits and academic successes to what I was able to accomplish in undergrad. When I see other people who can run, or think about my life pre-ACL tear, I can’t help but compare myself to them, or me. But how unhelpful! What will comparing myself accomplish?

I’ve started doing upper body lifting (because I need something physical to help with stress-relief) and I’m afraid that compared to other girls I’ll be a bulky, “masculine” freak beast (or even just a freak). I made a goal to do 10 pull-ups by the time I’m 6 months post-op, but I’m afraid that compared to societal standards, I won’t be feminine because I can do pull-ups.

That’s messed up (here’s where my therapist would say that it’s not helpful to compare myself to other people or past versions of myself, but that it’s also not healthy to beat myself up for comparing myself… still. It’s messed up).

My mom is having an incredibly hard time with losing our dog. And this weekend was my first time home without little Cary’s collar shakes, click of her claws on the floor, deep breaths when she falls asleep, and fluffy chest. There’s a noticeable emptiness, something so unusual, stark, and even though our family knew it was coming and were able to prepare ourselves for it, it happened really suddenly.

The only way out of the grief that losing a pet or a family member brings is through it. My mom deserves to grieve, after her years of giving Cary the most unconditional love possible, and there’s no deadline for when mourning needs to end, but she will get through it. There will be days in a few weeks or months that are really hard, when the emptiness is again obvious, but Cary is going to be gone, and we can only be grateful for the time with her, try to enjoy little things while she’s gone, and perhaps (Mom and Dad, want another dog?) relive the joy in a new way with another dog in the future (for the record, it’s a no for Frank and Krish, but Danny and I will have our own dogs eventually, don’t you worry).

Substituting my right ACL for Cary, I feel similarly with the loss of the comfortable life I was used to (on a smaller scale than losing Cary). I have given myself time to grieve the loss of my comfortable training routine, the short time for walking to and from class, being able to walk on the trails that I love, and running, jumping, skipping, dancing. And once I’ve grieved, I will move on, find little things to enjoy while I’m still on crutches or in a brace, and then when I have a new one, relive the joy in a new way.

And about my pull-up goal? I’ve updated it. 20 pull-ups, in a row, by myself (meaning no elastic band, just my own strength), by November 10th.

My friend, Amanda, shared a video with me about muscular women. It was encouragement that I needed. We’re all made uniquely, with different abilities, strengths, and bodies. It’s about time we celebrate them and what they do, especially for what they do. Another friend and inspiration, Emily Saul, told me about a coach who, in the face of her self-doubt and body image questions, said “Don’t look a certain way, look what you are capable of”. So to all you women (and men) out there who are training, lifting, and building strength for a sport, a personal goal, or when you don’t have two functioning legs, look what you are capable of.

And try not to compare yourself to what you’ve been, who you think you should be, or who you wish you were. You are perfectly and wonderfully you.

Updates

An Ode to My Body

I wrote this as a post for the November Project MKE blog, but it’s no less valid here. Let’s celebrate the amazing things each part of our bodies can do, regardless of what they look like. A friend shared an amazing snippet from an old coach; instead of looking a certain way (“feminine”, “thin”, “beautiful”), your body should look what it’s capable of. Look what you are capable of. And thank your body for what it does for you every so often.

Thank you to my toes. Thank you to my toenails that are sometimes black, to the few hairs that sometimes sit on my first toe-knuckle, to the way I can wiggle them and tickle them awake if my foot falls asleep.

Thank you to the arches of my feet. Thank you to the way they and my toes work together to push me and propel me forward. Thank you to the way I can put the bottoms of my feet together and make something that looks like the Pope’s hat. Thank you to the strength that sits within these two little arcs.

Thank you to my heels. To the way that they catch me on a downhill. To the way I can stand on them, spin around on them, and tap them on the floor to a hot jam.

Thank you to my ankles. Thank you to the turns and twists and rolls that, while painful, allow me to appreciate better, healthier days. Thank you to the way that they pivot my feet as I take quick steps towards a finish line, or slow steps towards my bed at the end of a long day.

Thank you to my calves. Thank you to the way they form two little mountains when I push off on my way up a set of stairs. Thank you to their hairiness, to their hairlessness, to their tone, to their squishiness.

Thank you to my knees. Thank you to the little lump of muscle on the upper inside that goes unnoticed until I’m 48 seconds into a wall sit.

Thank you to my thighs and glutes. Thank you to the burn that courses through them on a tough day of hills. Thank you to the fatigue I feel on a Saturday, and yet push on and continue to move. Thank you for the staircases that they’ve endured. Thank you for always working even when I didn’t think  I could.

Thank you to my stomach. Thank you to the digestive health that fuels me when I want to move. Thank you to the abdominal muscles that churn my innards and support me when I sprint. Thank you to the diaphragm that allows me to breathe, even when I struggle to take in enough air on the brink of exhaustion.

Thank you to my heart and lungs. Thank you to the trauma and effort they endure as I push myself past places and boundaries I haven’t reached before today. Thank you to all of the blood and oxygen that courses through my veins, supplies my muscles with energy, supplies my brain with thought, and supplies my entire person with life.

Thank you to my back. Thank you to my tailbone and lowest few vertebrae who are bruised from sidewalk sit-ups. To the muscles I didn’t know sat on either side of my spine until the day after a round of burpees.

Thank you to my fingers. Thank you to my hands. To the cuts they endure through pavement pushups. To the connections they make when shaking another’s hand.

Thank you to my arms. To the fire they feel after a hundred tricep dips. To the way they pull others to my chest. To the periodic swing they make in time with the feet moving beneath me.

Thank you to my head. To the eyes that take in the world moving swiftly by me as I explore a new corner of my environment. To the nose that takes in air when I can’t open my mouth. To the lips and tongue and teeth that yell when I can. To the ears that listen for encouragement, to the mouth that returns it. To the sweat that pours out of my forehead, telling me that I’ve challenged my body and have earned another day.

Thank you to my whole body. To the way that it looks different from every other body, and is just as beautiful and amazing. To the way that it works, no matter how it appears; to the way that because it is built one way, constantly changing, and allows me to accomplish my goals. To the way it moves. To the graceful, swift sprints, to the clumsy tumbles, to the slow, lingering hugs, to the quick high-fives. To the rest days, to the work days, to the mess-ups, to the successes. To everything I experience with my little pile of bones, muscle, skin, and blood.

To the house that is all mine. Thank you.

An Ode to My Body

When the unexpected happens

I was told by a wise old friend to write about the insecurities I’ve expressed in the past week as a way to combat a new, difficult, but very temporary situation:

When your body gives you a harsh (but necessary) tap on the shoulder and kick to the shins, it’s assessment time.

What drives me? Why do I choose to do what I do? Are my activities what truly make me happy, and if I were feeling (insert “junky” or “on cloud nine”), would I continue to choose these things?

I’m having a really hard time telling myself that being sidelined by injury is a good thing for me. When every eighth of an ounce of my core is screaming to run, I know that I need the rest and that I should take this time to reevaluate what running, and my health (physical and mental) means to me.

It’s easy to sink into insecurities: at my weakest moments, I think, how am I worthy to lead a group of athletes when I can’t even keep myself healthy? How can I tell them that intense, what-some-would-consider-excessive-and-insane exercise is good for them, tell them how to exercise in this way, and be a good role model to them, when, after years of mistreating my body, I’m left with a shaky body image and a broken hip? How can I call myself a “leader” if I’m not leading by example? At this moment, I feel exactly what I don’t want the people with whom I spend my time to feel – dejected, weak, and broken.

Over Christmas break, I had the most wonderful coffee date with an old friend who went through a similar struggle, and leaving the conversation, I was enveloped by a feeling of “normalcy”. It was truly the first time that I didn’t think something was wrong with me, that there wasn’t something broken within me that may never heal, and that I shouldn’t feel any shame. This makeshift group therapy allowed me to be fully understood without having to explain details. My friend just got it.

I took that feeling back to school with me. I became even more connected, putting myself in situations that I know are helping my tendency to hide from things that leave me vulnerable. I felt I really had beaten it – the voices were almost silent, I could take a rest day without feeling antsy, I was better able to focus on whatever task I was doing; I was becoming an augmented version of myself, quirks and all.

I also continued building up for my marathon in May. I felt a twinge in my hip, but thought with proper stretching and rolling out, it would relax. It didn’t. After seeing the doctor on campus, I was diagnosed with a stress fracture in my pelvis. The only other time I’ve had a stress fracture was in fifth grade, following a doctor’s appointment where I asked my pediatrician if it’s normal for someone’s thighs to spread out on a chair when they sit down (which apparently is, who knew?) and where my pediatrician said I wasn’t meeting average weights for my age group and needed to start drinking 2% milk to bulk up (#gains). The sense of “there it is again” is overwhelming – I know I am in a better and more healthy place than I was a couple years ago, but there is a part of me that is afraid of repeating the same mistakes and dealing with the consequences of bad decisions forever. For someone who has a fear of the unknown, not knowing how my body will respond in the future to running (especially long runs), something I absolutely love and need for my mental health, terrifies me.

So now that I’ve come out of a period of dangerous weight loss, loss of my period, and exercise compulsions (all things that put a female at risk for osteoporosis) – after feeling I was finally done with the complications of this disease – it’s back, in full fury. Not that I’m trying to lose weight. But even with “good behavior”, I’m still fighting the eating disorder off. I asked myself out loud today: When will this be over?

I don’t know the answer. No one does. But giving in to my insecurities is not the way to fight it. Wallowing and begging for pity is not the way this beast is beaten. Leaning on other people, physically and mentally, and soaking up others’ energy (thank you, November Project) is the only way to get through a difficult day, week, or more.

The things we struggle with, be it an eating disorder or other mental health issues, problems at work, an unstable family situation, or even something as big as being an immigrant this week, shouldn’t define us. We are more than the things that frustrate us and take away our sleep and cause us to feel disconnected from one another. We have characteristics, abilities, and passions that will be a part of us, no matter what’s going on in our lives, and it’s in these times of reality checks and redefining our identities that we need to lean into the things that make us us.

It’s possible to kick this thing right in the stomach. And that’s what I plan on doing – or asking others to help me do this until I’m cleared for impact exercise.

When the unexpected happens

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Shannon and I became friends years ago by speaking in British accents, running laps at soccer practice. It was immediate, just as Anne of Green Gables describes a friend as a “kindred spirit”. 

We are made of the same stuff – perfectionism, perseverance, and a tendency to shove feelings down and to hide them with a chipper attitude and a goofy exterior. 

 I’m so grateful to have her as a friend and a confidant, especially as someone who understands me to the core on the most serious level. She is stunning soul and I’m so proud of how far she has come. Take in the words of yet another brave woman that I am lucky to call a dear friend and sister from another mister. 

It’s been about three and a half years since I started my recovery from bulimia and there is not a day that I am not reminded in some fashion about the fact that I am travelling on a long road that does not guarantee bump free ride. I do not regret that I am on this road but 18 yr. old me had a crazy expectation for a one step cure-all when I finally started receiving the help I needed. If I could talk to her right now I would have a few things to tell her..

“Shannon Ross Weas, going to therapy does not make you weird or weak. You avoided seeking help for such a long time because you didn’t want to be what you so eloquently put as “that girl”. You waited to receive help until you had a breakdown on your way out of the house because you were stopped by Mom and forced to answer why you had been acting so strange lately (love you mom, you da bomb). You skipped your first two therapy appointments to go through the McDonald’s drive-through, binge, purge, and take a nap in your car. When you finally did go to your first appointment (good job girl, honestly that took a lot of guts), you ended up baring your soul to this stranger because it was refreshing to talk to someone who did not hold you to a certain standard and pressure you to maintain a specific reputation. With the freeing of the details from your past and what led you to be depressed and use purging as a method of self-harm and a way to create more control in your life, you automatically came up with an unrealistic timeline for completely recovering. THIS IS ALL NORMAL. While I wish you didn’t wait to seek help for almost two years, I know you were lost and needed time to process some intense events in your life. You are strong for starting a recovery journey no matter how long it took to seek help. Even though it took some coercion to start and you didn’t understand how winding the journey was going to be, I am proud of you.”

I don’t take much time to be proud of 18 year old me. I went to therapy a lot the summer before I started college and I didn’t want to continue getting help when I started school. I didn’t want it to interfere with the college experience and I wanted to put distance between college me and the troubled high school version of myself. I put a Band-Aid on something that needed rehabilitation which has led to some difficult times but I am proud that 18 year old me started the recovery journey that I am still on today. My past experience with my eating disorder and the reasons behind me developing an eating disorder still affect me every single day. Aside from dealing with a confusing relationship with food, my past has made it a little harder to get close to people and has made feeling comfortable in my own skin a constant battle. While I sometimes feel down and have thoughts that remind me of the troubled high school version of myself, I know I have made amazing strides, am capable of success, and am no longer the same person I was at 18 years old.

Everyone is on some sort of personal journey and has their own struggles to address. No two journeys are the same and this is of paramount importance to understand. My dad once told me, “You are uniquely and wonderfully you”. I have held onto this phrase tightly throughout the years. Just because I may have had a different experience than some of my peers, does not mean I am any less. We are the sum of our experiences and mine have helped shape who I am today- a quirky, albeit slightly awkward, girl that loves adventure but also appreciates a good nap and has a fiery drive to reach her goals. I leave you with what has become my mantra…loving yourself takes time, the journey is worth it, and you are uniquely and wonderfully you.

 

 

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