Grieving My Old Self as an Athlete With Chronic Illness

Today I am letting go of who I used to be before my chronic illness escalated over a year ago. I was a runner and a health nut. I worked out five to six times a week, every week. Even after having each of my three children, I lost all of the weight and was back in shape within six months each time. However, over the past year I have been on a steady stream of steroids to treat my severe asthma and have gained weight. Each time I would start to work out again, I would get sick or hospitalized and be unable to continue. I felt broken. Being in shape, even though my insides were sick, was my way of fighting my illness and seeming like I was normal. Working out and eating right kept my illness somewhat at bay, and it made other people assume I was super healthy. This was not true, as my primary immunodeficiency disorder ebbed and flowed with symptoms, but I was able to appear healthy to others and feel somewhat in control of my illness.

woman in running gear

Yesterday I saw a photo of myself that someone took at a cookout without my permission – not one of my strategically posed social media-friendly shoulders and up photos. It was a regular photo, albeit from a horrible angle, and every single pound showed. I am so tired of feeling like a stranger in my own skin. Due to osteoarthritis and said severe asthma, I am not allowed to run any longer; however, I am going to do something else about feeling better.


First, I am going to let go of the uber athletic image of myself I hold in my head and allow myself to struggle to complete much less straining workouts to start. I am walking everywhere I can. (For those of you who are or were runners, you know what it feels like to force yourself to walk instead.) However, I am going to do this, because sitting at home upset with my inability to work out like I used to is not getting me anywhere.

Next, my dad and mom got together and got me a fancy new bicycle that is set up for fitness, so I can ride and still go fast like when I was running. Also, it will allow me to feel free a bit.

Third, I am going to quit emotionally eating when I’m down about my illness and my inability to work out like I want. This is difficult, but technically I am off of steroids at the moment and out of the hospital, so I can use my willpower and not eat poorly. It doesn’t have to be an all or nothing thing.

Fourth and finally, I am going to cut myself some slack. I don’t have to be able to wear the teeny bikini I wore last summer. I don’t even have to be able to run across the yard with the kids, but I can wear a new bikini with my thicker body (thick is a compliment) that I feel comfortable in and walk quickly across the yard if I work at it and get healthier with my movements. Also, I’m working on not feeling guilty that I have to rest a lot of the time.

Grieving who we were before we were so chronically ill takes all the steps of grief to get through. I am teetering towards acceptance; however, it is a day-to-day process where sometimes I still glimpse anger or sadness, but I want acceptance and I want it with all of you. We got this!

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